Improving Sauce Flavor

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Perhaps the most common problem with sauce flavor is that there doesn’t seem to be enough of it, or that “there’s something missing” in it. Perfecting the flavor of any dish is an art that depends on the perceptiveness and skill of the cook, but there are two basic principles that can help anyone analyze and improve a sauce’s flavor.
  • Sauces are an accompaniment to a primary food, are eaten in small amounts compared to the primary food, and therefore need to have a concentrated flavor. A spoonful of sauce alone should taste too strong, so that a little sauce on a piece of meat or pasta will taste just right. Thickening agents tend to reduce the flavor of a sauce, so it’s important to check and adjust the flavor after thickening.
  • A satisfying sauce offers stimulation to most of our chemical senses. A sauce that doesn’t seem quite right is probably deficient in one or more tastes, or doesn’t carry enough aroma. The cook can taste the sauce actively for its saltiness, sweetness, acidity, savoriness, and aroma, and then try to correct the deficiencies while maintaining the overall balance of flavors.