In her new book, longtime Portland food writer Martha Holmberg simplifies the art of the saucier.
Martha Holmberg is on your team. She knows a whisper of the word “sauce” evokes visions of veal bones simmering for days, egg yolks curdling in hot cream, and scalding geysers of tomato erupting from the blender. With her new book, Modern Sauces, she’s here to help. “Frankly, I’ve never made anything as time-consuming as a demi-glace at home that was any good,” she says. “But if you can whip up a great vinaigrette, caramel, and butter sauce, you can make a piece of cardboard transcendent.” Indeed, Holmberg brings creativity to the saucier’s rigid artillery, demystifying classic sauces for even the most reluctant cooks.
Holmberg spent years studying in Paris and Burgundy at La Varenne, a tiny, rigorous culinary school where classic sauces were dispatched with precision. Stateside, she kick-started the popular food magazine Fine Cooking and, more than a decade later, took the helm at the Oregonian, dreaming up Mix Magazine and helping to shape some of the state’s most seminal food years before heading off to focus on cookbooks. This tome is Holmberg’s love letter to both worlds—bridging the gap between French relics and the modern Portland kitchen.
Of the more than 100 recipes in her book, Holmberg describes the butter sauces as the “poster child for misunderstood French sauces.” One of the simplest sauces to make and master, a butter sauce plays on the delicate balance between an acidic reduction and the slow incorporation of the rich, buttery body. This dark, glossy balsamic-and-citrus recipe takes an herbaceous hit from rosemary, with a mellow fatty undertone that goes well on anything from seared scallops to pork medallions—though drinking it straight is not frowned upon.