How to make sauces – a masterclass at Leiths, London

Pesto is one of the sauces on the menu at Leiths

Pesto is one of the sauces on the menu at Leiths

by Laura Ivill

Before I took this course, I took a punt and ordered the Leiths bible, How to Cook, online; I can honestly say, hand on heart, that this is how I want to be able to prepare and serve food: classic, elegant, straightforward dishes that look as good as they taste.

To kick off my unbound enthusiasm, I chose the Sauces Masterclass from the range on offer for all levels at Leiths School of Food and Wine in West London. The school has just celebrated its 40th birthday and I was delighted to see that its copper cookware has been in use by students since the very early days. If a pan is a good pan it will last a lifetime: lesson one.

The set-up had the feel of a proper school – students from all walks of life rushing about from class to class doing fun, practical work all day. When it was suddenly all over and the intensity of the kitchen dissipated with the disappearing students, I was left wanting more – always a good sign.

But, back to the beginning, where 20 students (we were then split into two separate groups for the practical sessions) gathered seated in the demonstration kitchen to watch our tutor Hannah make a brown stock, the foundation for stews, jus and braises. Introducing the subject, we were told that although sauces are one of the most difficult things to master, they elevate a simple dish to something special and give food finesse. The aim of the day was to help us to produce more consistent sauces, to get the same quality every time.

Then, upstairs in the kitchen, each group of ten had two teachers and an army of helpers to wash, clean, tidy and resupply our individual stations with no time wasted. Our masterclass folder had all the day’s sauces in it with variants for us to refer to at home, plus tips, techniques and troubleshooting.

We got to practise making all the main types of sauce: a reduction (chicken and thyme jus), a flour-based sauce (the classic white sauce), a pan sauce (for tarragon chicken breast for our lunch), a composite sauce (pesto in a blender), an emulsion (mayonnaise – very laborious) and a sweet sauce (delicious crème Anglaise).

We packaged up our creations in airtight trays to take home afterwards, which was a good thing because the jus was a real labour of love that we tended for hours and hours as we made all the others.

Tips for perfect stock:
* You are aiming for clarity and colour
* Chop your veg into big chunks not small, to avoid the stock becoming cloudy
* Throw in the onion skin too, for colour
* Never boil the stock, or you risk it going cloudy
* Keep revisiting the simmering stock to lift off the scum with a ladle as it forms
* Never stir it, don’t add salt and simmer it for four hours
* Decanting the strained and reduced stock into ice-cube trays is an easy way to store it

Class: Sauces Masterclass
Where: Leiths School of Food and Wine, 16-20 Wendell Road, London W12 9RT (020 8749 6400,
Duration: 10am to 4pm, lunch included
Cost: £195

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