Les Gastriques

So, if you’re a lover of food porn TV, you have without a doubt heard the term ‘Gastrique’ thrown about by an Iron Chef or Chopped contestant. While ya might hear that term and nod sagely, do ya know what one is and how to make it? I’ll bet you do, though you might not know it.  

Stripped of the fancy moniker, a gastrique is just a sweet-and-sour sauce designed to compliment and coax out the bold flavor notes of a protein; they work well on beef, pork, chicken, fish, meaty vegetables like mushrooms and eggplant, and even tofu, (in fact they’re spectacular with tofu), even sweet stuff.

Gastriques are easy to make and visually stunning; they’ll make a simple dish look and taste like something turned out by a seasoned pro. Simply caramelize a sweetener and blend it fifty-fifty with vinegar, (the acid, or sour component), and you’ve formed a sauce of sublime beauty. 

Gastriques are wonderfully tweakable, given the wide of sweeteners and vinegars available to us these days. Make the same one with different variants and you’ll have a bunch of distinct sauces, each with its own charm. Consider vinegar; there’s everything from the spicy, sharp notes of cider, to the amazing depth and subtlety of good balsamic. Varietal wine vinegars, sherry, champagne, rice, malt – the other day I saw blood orange and fig vinegars in the store, and all of these you can make yourself at home, too, so once again, the sky’s the limit. For sweeteners, you might choose sugar, (white, brown, dark brown, turbinado), honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, molasses, and so on.

 Additional flavor notes can be supplied by a myriad of things, from booze, to fruit, veggies, herbs and spices. Gastriques can stand on their own with a main ingredient, or act as an adjunct with heavier partners like a pan sauce made after searing a protein. 

 Regardless of what you decide to make, the process is the same;

Combine the sweetener and vinegar in a sauce pan over low heat.

Reduce the sauce, stirring occasionally, until you’ve got roughly 50% of your original volume. 

When you’re just about to the volume and consistency you like, add your additional flavor notes, heat through, and reduce a bit further if need be.

When the gastrique is right, it should nicely coat a spoon.

Take a taste, and that’s it, you’re done.

 Gastriques are pretty but potent, so use them sparingly. You don’t have to get uber fussy, but this is one of those cases where you want to pour or brush a little line across your plate, or around your entrée; a big ol’ puddle of gastriques is too much. Also, you need to pair wisely. It’s like with like, so  a stronger flavored protein like duck or game will like a strong gastrique, like brown sugar/malt vinegar/blackberry. Likewise, something more delicate like chicken will go better with agave nectar/champagne vinegar/kiwi. Citrus or herb variations go great with seafood and veggie dishes. Don’t forget cheeses; from Brie to Myzithra, a gastriques can turn cheese into a serious appetizer just like that. And that ain’t all; try a slightly sweet favored fruit gastrique over homemade ice cream, on a fresh granita, or crepes. You can even use a gastriques in a cocktail where you might normally opt for bitters. Once you get hooked, the sky is the limit.

 As I mentioned above, gastriques can also be combined with other sauces; when you want to try this, think of the gastrique as specifically providing a tangy element to your overall presentation. For instance, you might use a honey/malt vinegar/tomato/lemon gastrique to provide that function for a pan sauce made from a whole roasted chicken.

 Gastriques will keep for two or three weeks refrigerated in an airtight bottle. Repurposed hot sauce bottles are perfect for the task. That said, I like them fresh best, so I build in small batches that will get used pretty quickly. 

 

Sherry Gastrique is great for chicken, fish, and veggie dishes and sides. Just blend all three ingredients from the get go and reduce accordingly. Raspberries also go great with this combination of sweetener and vinegar.

1 Cup Champagne Vinegar

1 Cup Amber Agave Nectar

1/2 Cup Dry Sherry

 

 

Blackberry Gastrique is seasonal, of course, but if you pick ’em, then freeze ’em so you’ll have them year round. This goes great with beef, pork, and meaty mushrooms like porcini. Blueberries and cranberries also are great with this combination of sweetener and vinegar.

1 Cup Malt Vinegar

1 Cup dark brown Sugar

1 Cup fresh Blackberries

Purée the blackberries in  by blender, then add them when your sugar/vinegar reduction is roughly 60% of initial volume. Continue to reduce until you hit 50%.

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