Seconds in a juicer, minutes on the stove turn ordinary veggies into luscious sauces In a Whirl

March 09, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

Outside, sleet and snow and freezing rain are piling up in dismal mounds of slush. Inside, chefs Jerry Edwards and David Fusting are performing magic.

With a few props, and a little assistance from an observer, they are whipping up a quartet of savory, scrumptious, simply smashing vegetable sauces that light up meat, fish and poultry the way Bastille Day lights up Paris. It's hard to believe that such a flavor wallop can be packed into such a simple package.

And there's more: These rich and varied sauces fit perfectly into a healthful diet.

"All these sauces are made from vegetables and herbs, strictly -- so they're very high in vitamins and very low in fat," Mr. Edwards says, as he prepares the sauces in his catering kitchen in Timonium.

Carrot with dill, beet with rosemary, red pepper with garlic, cucumber with leeks and scallions -- the secret of these scintillating sauces is a simple juicer. Mr. Edwards, co-owner with his wife Judi of Chef's Expressions catering, turns on the machine and feeds in a couple of fat carrots. The juice is a clear, carrot orange. He pours it into a low-sided saute pan on the

stove, whisks it until it begins to bubble around the edges, adds a little "slurry," or soupy paste made of arrowroot, and whisks again as the sauce thickens. He adds just a splash of brandy. The sauce just takes a minute or two to reach the desired consistency.

"We're going to pull it off now and let the heat infuse the flavors." He whisks it gently, adds some chopped shallots and dill, and there it is: A beautiful, bright sauce with a hint of underlying sweetness that turns a plain grilled chicken breast into a sparkler of color and piquancy.

"With these sauces, you've got to do them quick," he says. "You can't cook them for hours.

"A la minute," says Mr. Fusting, the French phrase for "in a flash."

"The key to these sauces is to stop cooking them when they get to their brightest color -- just like green vegetables," Mr. Edwards says.

Arrowroot is better than cornstarch as a thickening agent, Mr. Edwards says, because it makes the sauce a little clearer.

The clearness enhances the luscious colors of the sauces: the carroty orange of the carrot-dill sauce; the deep purple-red of the beet-rosemary sauce, the red-orange red pepper-garlic sauce, and the lime-green cucumber sauce. Paired with simple grilled chops, fillets or poultry breasts, the sauces create lively, low-cal, no-fat dishes that are easy enough to whip up after the toughest day and exceptional enough to serve to guests.

Mr. Edwards puts some red bell pepper slices through the juicer, preparing to make another sauce. He pulls out a small bowl of garlic juice. "This is something you always want to have around the house," he says, adding a bit to the red pepper juice. He usually adds a splash of red wine, but today he's trying Marsala (Italian fortified wine). "Let's try something different, see what it does . . ."

He quickly prepares the sauce, pulls it off the heat, adds some chopped scallion, and there it is: a full-flavored sauce with enough power to punch up a fillet of beef.

The beet sauce with rosemary, however, is his favorite sauce, Mr. Edwards says. It contains a pinch of salt and a touch of red wine, and is infused with the rosemary, which is removed when the sauce comes off the heat. Paired with seared and baked lamb chops, the sauce imparts a complex, plummy flavor.

Mr. Edwards says he began experimenting with the vegetable-juice sauces after he and his wife got a juicer for Christmas. "I like fruit juice," he says, "but I couldn't drink carrot juice." Then he read an article in a professional chef's magazine about vegetable syrups. "They were adding sugar to thicken it," he says. "I think that's too sweet. It's OK if you have a hankering for sweet things, but I prefer savory things. So we use arrowroot slurry as a thickener."

He knew that whatever he prepared, part of the appeal would be the fresh, clear color. "That was attractive to me. Because you eat with your eyes first."

He's experimented with all kinds of vegetables. Some are great successes, some are not. "I juiced a mushroom and tasted it -- it was horrendous," he says, laughing. "Most of the vegetables that work well are root vegetables, like beets." He doesn't use thickener with the beet sauce, because it is already starchy, and self-thickening. "Turnips are good, too."

Celery works; zucchini and squash don't. Broccoli was too strong-flavored. Cucumber works well, if you leave on the skin, for color and texture, and take out the seeds. "Red and yellow bell peppers are just beautiful" in sauces, he says. He tried roasting some red peppers and juicing them, "but it was too much." Roasted peppers make sense in a coulis, or puree, as a sauce, he says, where you use the vegetable pulp and all and the roasting adds richness. But when the sauce is from the juice, he says, what you're looking for is a "fresher, livelier flavor."

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