Cabernet Sauvignon Demi Glace
Courtesy of Chef John McGannon, wildeats.com
Before refrigeration, people had to find ways to extend the shelf life of their once‑fresh protein products. Curing, smoking, brining and pickling were all ways to stretch out the usability of meat under volatile conditions and to prevent the growth of bacteria. Sauces could mask the sometimes “off” flavor of meat that had been held a bit too long. This also explains why Europeans were willing to send their prized explorers around the world in search of spices, which were used to make their food palatable even when slightly spoiled.
Today, a sauce is designed to either complement or contrast the natural flavors of a piece of meat. Excellent demi-glaces start as a stock, which is the extraction of proteins from bones, vegetables, herbs and spices. (See “Carnivore’s Kitchen,” July‑August 2008.) The stock is then fortified with additional vegetables, herbs, spices and often wine, vinegars or citrus, then reduced until it becomes a very rich, decadent sauce. It has so much protein that when cold it will be as hard as a rubber ball. In fact, a true glace, which is reduced further, is the natural equivalent of bouillon cubes. Adding a small cube of glace to just a cup or two of cream produces a very flavorful sauce. Below is a basic recipe for demi-glace that will have your guests touting your culinary skills for some time to come.
4 tbsp finely diced shallots
2 tbsp minced fresh garlic
4 tbsp clarified butter or olive oil
4 tbsp flour
2 cups quality Cabernet Sauvignon
4 qts dark beef, game or veal stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup cold butter cut into small pieces. Herb/spice/fruit garnishes: such as thyme, sage, marjoram, chives and scallions; green peppercorns, crushed juniper berries, dried fruit like cherries, cranberries and apricots.
Add clarified butter or olive oil to a large stockpot. Heat on medium until the fat is hot. Add the garlic and shallots and stir until lightly golden brown. Add the flour and stir for several minutes until the flour turns golden. Add the red wine and mix thoroughly. You don’t want any lumps. Cook for a couple of minutes until the wine reduces by half. Add the stock (cold) and again mix thoroughly. Slowly bring the stock to a simmer and skim any scum that forms. Allow the stock to cook down until it’s reduced by two-thirds. (The actual time will depend on the size of the pot and how much evaporation occurs.) The sauce should be slightly thickened and have a brilliant shine. I like to strain the sauce into another pot before finishing.
Using a wire whip, stir the butter into the sauce. This will thicken it a bit and add more shine. Called Monte Au Beurre, or mounting with butter, this procedure helps maintain the balance of fats and acids. Always adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper just before serving. If you season while reducing you will run the risk of having the final sauce over seasoned. You can also adjust the balance of the sauce with a touch of acid (vinegar, citrus or wine) if it gets too rich. Finish this luxurious sauce with your choice of herbs, spices or fruit. This last step should be done just before serving so they retain their color, texture and bite.
A great way to handle your stocks or sauces is to prepare a large batch and freeze it in small quantities, like quart zip-lock bags, for use when you need it. A frozen sauce will last for a year in a good freezer.
John McGannon is chef/founder of Wildeats Enterprises, a life member of the Elk Foundation, host of popular wild game cooking seminars at the foundation’s Elk Camp and a passionate hunter.