December 3, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Keeping it simple

By |2022-06-21T03:19:11+02:00June 13th, 2022|"Suzanne's Taste"|
So you think you know how Sauce Nantua should taste?

y now I am sure you know that frou-frou cooking, as I call it, is not my gig. I went through it and out the other side to find, well, simplicity. It was great fun plowing through French recipes from feuilleté to pheasant. I had a ball. Really, I did — smashing that buttery brioche dough one hundred times against my black granite pastry board. Good for aggression, for sure, but with a lovely, light pastry to show for it, not often found in too many bakeries, alas.

But years of experimenting have brought the pot to the simmer and the broth is crystal clear.

And because of winding down a bit, my kitchen has never been so full of surprises, innovation, and just plain fun.

Take for example the kilo of écrevisses (crawfish in my part of the woods) that I bought the other day from our wonderful fish monger. Living part-time in France, I wondered why we do not eat these incredible little morsels more often, as here, they are reasonably priced and fresh out of the sea.

My kitchen has never been so full of surprises, innovation, and just plain fun.

But I’ll admit, there is only a small, tender, buttery bite in each tail, and though one can challenge one’s dental works by chewing and sucking on the claws and tiny legs, it’s best to move through the little morsels, dipped in the broth in which they cook, and save all the shells for… HAH, you guessed it!

Sauce Nantua, one of the wonders of the cook’s world. Hey, no one makes this any longer, I’m pretty sure. It’s difficult to find even in classy restos, as the labor to create it probably costs far more that what the management can charge.

But your luck is about to change

I wanted Sauce Nantua to spread over silky quenelles (fish dumplings) and so took a look online at a very well-known recipe source to refresh my very distant memory. Here’s what I found: shrimp (?), cognac, shallots, onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, garlic (!), bay leaf, thyme, clam juice, parsley, tomato purée, cayenne, fish velouté, and cream.

You have to be kidding. My nemesis, the bay leaf, in Sauce Nantua? No way, Jose. And so I put my sweet little écrevisses in a large pot with half a sweet onion, two spring green onions with tops, all chopped fine , a dash of salt, a splash of cognac, a cup of white wine, and brought everything to a simmer. After 5-6 minutes, I turned off the fire, covered the little darlings to let them get to know their surroundings, and went off to plant cilantro in our lovely spring weather.

But here’s the good part.

I put the bouillon through a sieve into a saucepan, tasted it and almost fainted with delight. It did call for a lovely swirl of butter and a spoon more of Cognac and the elixir then went to the table in which to dip our succulent tail meat. My husband took a sip from his bouillon cup and his eyes glazed over.

Now is the fun part of kitchen madness.

All of the shells, heads, and claws were put back in a large pot and simmered with the same ingredients as before, for about 20 minutes. I drained off the liquid to save for the finish, and took out my meat cleaver to use the flat end to mash the shells to a pulp in the pot. Talk about ridding oneself of aggression, not to even mention the stress of the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, global warming, and new neighbors who party in their (next-door) yard until morning!

I called the Golden Palate to come taste this magic and he said, “Who needs Sauce Nantua when you can have THIS?”

Throw that bouillon back into the shell pot along with whatever was left from lunch and simmer it for about 10 minutes.

Strain the mix into a container and swirl in another spoon of butter.

I called the Golden Palate to come taste this magic and heard sweet words.

“Who needs Sauce Nantua when you can have THIS?”

Just for the record, you can use this simple magic potion, reduced and whisked with a spoon of good tomato sauce and a shot of heavy cream and your Sauce Nantua will outshine the one with too many players in the act.

As for quenelles, I have a short cut for those, too, if you’re interested. Maybe next issue. This sauce would be good on the phone book.

And just for the record, “easy” has four letters.

“Frou-frou” has eight.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.