Caramel cheese sauce
Many years ago, I arrived late at a dinner party and most of the food had been devoured, except a tray of some leftover broccoli and carrots served up in a caramel cheese sauce. At the time, I recall the sauce to be quite yellow but the taste was so divine and to this day, I have never ever found a recipe or a chef that could give me the answer as to how to make a caramel cheese sauce? Could you be my hope Peter?
Well, I must admit that I’ve never heard of caramel cheese sauce for vegetables and have spent manyminutes wondering what could have made the carrots and broccoli taste good. To me it sounds a bit Dutch or Hungarian (don’t ask me why). I’ve been imagining a sauce made from a firm cheese like the delicious nutty caramelised-tasting comte from France — a cow’s milk cheese aged for between 18 and 24 months. It’s like a Swiss gruyere with some caramel added. But then I wondered if this is what you are referring to — I’m not sure it was available in NZ many years ago. I can buy mine now from Farro Fresh when it’s available. I guess the simple solution would be to contact the person from the dinner party who cooked it in the first place, as it may well be a family secret they’re willing to share at last. Or it could be that it was the sauce intended for dessert, to be smothered over roast peaches or pears. I’ve asked my mates if anyone has experienced such a thing and so far everyone has raised an eyebrow or scratched their head, but I figure I’ll try to make something up that may dowhat you like.
The secret of "caramelisation’’ is the simple truth that almost everyone prefers toasted foods over non-toasted ones. Put a bowl of toasted and untoasted peanuts on a table and see which is eaten first. Likewise, a roasted chicken thigh or a steamed /poached one. Try as we may to veer towards the healthy poached one, I bet it’s the golden crispy skinned one we really want. We like things that have undergone a toasting, whereby the starch has undergone a change under the influence of high heat. When you apply heat to sugar it turns in to toffee or caramel. Apply it to the starch in bread and you have toast, a scallop seared in a hot pan become golden and slightly crisp, and applied to kumara you end up with wedges or chips. There’s something decidedly tastier, meatier, fruitier, lovelier and more giving in the flavour of toasted or caramelised foods — and that’s likely why most recipes, when using onions, say to “cook until caramelised’’.
When used cleverly you can also make a dish that has caramel in it appear less sweet — in a good way. A good example is the French apple tart tart tatin. The apples are cooked in a very dark toffee, a puff-pastry lid is put on top and then the dish is baked in the oven. If you were to simply sprinkle this sugar over the fruit and eat it you’d find it cloyingly sweet. Yet when cooked to a dark colour with plenty of butter (oops — sorry, waistline) the sweetness is replaced with a slightly bitter-sweet flavour and one that works incredibly well with the slightly tart apples. I make a sweet chilli sauce (sold at Sabato) that I like to serve with fish and meats, especially scallops. It’s made by cooking a paste of aromatic ingredients in a dark caramel. If I simply boiled them in a sugar syrup, the sauce would be less characterful and way too sweet.
So, a caramel sauce for vegetables. I’d suggest something like this — but I keep wondering if it’ll work for you as you say your sauce was yellow? Place 3 tablespoons of caster sugar in a pot and cook over medium heat without stirring until the sugar melts and then slowly caramelises. Don’t stir it or it may form white crystals. Once it’s dark golden in colour, gently pour on 500ml warmed milk and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.
In another pot melt 25g of butter then add 25g of sifted plain flour and mix until combined. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for a minute. Slowly pour in the warmed milk, whisking it as you do so, bring to a gentle boil and cook 4-5 minutes. It’s important you keep stirring it for a few minutes, with whisk or spoon, to prevent lumps forming. Stir in anything from 50-100g cheese and let it melt through, then taste for seasoning.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you’re stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.