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A new word - gastrique

"The best thing about learning how to make a gastrique is that it's extremely easy for the clueless chef to do. It makes a simple dish look like it just came across the kitchen line of a four-star restaurant. Easy to pull off and automatically classy, this basic sauce is the true definition of 'dress to impress.'" Food Republic

I came across the word 'gastrique' a week or so ago in The Guardian newsletter as almost a throwaway line in an article about various quick tips centred on saving waste. The heading was 'the cheat's gastrique', but it did go on to explain in three lines what it was. And fundamentally it is a sugar and vinegar reduction - first introduced by Escoffier in 1903 as "sucre cuit au caramel blond, dissous avec 1 décilitre de vinaigre" - no name just instructions - 'sugar cooked to a light caramel, deglazed with 100ml (I think) of vinegar.' A sweet and sour sauce to enhance other sauces. Barely a sauce on its own. You can make it and store it and just add it to other sauces, or add other things to it. And here's the man himself. I should do a piece on him one day, as I know next to nothing about him, other than his name and Pêche Melba.

I confess when I first saw the word it made me think of stomach disorders, even though I knew it couldn't be that. Well I guess it comes from the same root. Still it was a new word, and I love new words, so I investigated.

It turns out that gastrique is that glassy syrupy looking stuff that will decorate your plate in a classy restaurant. Here is one of those fancy platings - scallops with a tangerine gastrique - and I have to say it does make it look beautiful. And occasionally it also tastes really, really good and adds that indefinable something to your dish.

"Watch any competitive cooking show, and it feels like you will hear the word gastrique mentioned numerous times. From halibut to filet mignon, a winning dish apparently must be served with a gastrique. But does this elegant-sounding sauce truly improve the dish, or does it make it sound fancier? The answer is both." Tasting Table

Having now read a few recipes I think there are probably three ways of going about this.

The first and the most simple is to do as Escoffier - caramelise some sugar and then stir in some vinegar until syrupy. Although, of course, it's not as simple as that. What sugar, what vinegar? And it could also be honey or treacle, or maple syrup, some other kind of acid ... And I guess depending on what you use, you might use it for different things. Nothing is ever simple.

This photograph is from a David Leibovitz post - and obviously on this particular occasion he used honey. It seems to me that this might be the way to go, because it will keep for ages in the fridge - both vinegar and sugar are preservatives after all - and then either add it to other sauces to boost their flavour, or else go the second way:

"Another option for flavor tweakage is to experiment with added ingredients once the gastrique base has finished cooking. At this final stage, you can add fresh fruit or berries, a dash of juice like tomato or orange, alcohol, citrus peel, herbs, spices or chiles. Heat them through, or do a final round of reducing if needed, and serve." Sue Veed/Serious Eats

A slight variation on this approach is like this recipe from a website called Wild Greens and Sardines in which blood orange juice is added at the start with the sugar and vinegar and it's all just cooked up together until you get a syrup.

Blood Orange Gastrique

1:2:2 ratio of honey:vinegar:blood orange juice (a dash more/less of each depending on taste) 1/4 cup honey 1/2 red wine vinegar 1/2 cup blood orange juice

Combine the honey, vinegar, and blood orange juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until thick and reduced, about 10-15 minutes.

Nothing difficult about that. It just requires a bit of patience, and watching the pan. I saw a few others like this, where the ingredients were all put in together and cooked up until it became a syrup. You might need to either blend the finished product or push it through a sieve, and although it will keep like your basic sauce - virtually forever - it would need to be tailored to what you were serving it with, because this would have a distinct taste that might not go with everything.

Sue Veed on the Serious Eats website, gave the best and clearest explanation of these options. Plus ideas of how to serve them - including this one:

"One of the most seductive instances I've heard of is using a tomato version to perfectly acidify pan drippings from a roasted chicken." Sue Veed/Serious Eats

But of course, you can be fancier. The third option involves shallots and other stuff cooked in butter to begin with, with other things being added later. Kevin D. Weeks on The Spruce Eats website gives a good basic recipe done this way, but there are more elaborate ones such as this one from Saveur - a fig syrup served with quail. How you serve it depends perhaps on your artistic ability, although this kind of thing is actually quite simple. I learnt it from one of our pre-cooked Mercer's dinners. You put a dollop on your plate, and then drag the back of a spoon through it. Others 'drizzle' it around the plate, or put little dobs here and there:

"But like any good sauce, when a well-made gastrique serves its plate honorably—moistening our bites, brightening flavor and kicking up color, often to a beautiful berry or citrus hue—what's not to love?" Sue Veed/Serious Eats

Or you can just dollop some on top of a bit of cheese, as David Leibovitz did. An alternative to serving the cheese with some fruit or a fruit paste.

I suspect that many of us have actually made gastrique, without knowing that's what we were doing. And there are other versions of course - a lot of Asian dishes have sweet and sour sauces of various kinds, and the Italians have agrodolce which is very, very similar although more specific in its use of dried grapes of various kinds. Anyway - if you want to do some fancy plating check it out.


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