When you put a piece of meat dunked in this red wine sauce, your life will change. You will understand why the French are masters of cuisine. Similar to the classic French Bordelaise sauce, this velvety rich sauce makes a classic topping for beef and lamb. I love it on beef tenderloin or filets mignon, which, although they are beloved by many, often have a metallic or liver undernote. It really illuminates a lightly smoked pork chop. As heretical as it may seem, it is great on pulled pork. I like to serve boiled baby potatoes on the side, and I douse them with this sauce too.
Makes. 1 cup, enough for 4-6 servings of meat
Preparation time. About 2 hours, but you don't have to do much
Special equipment. Large nonstick frying pan or skillet
5 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, skinned and coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped or crushed
2 cloves garlic, crushed or pressed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried sage leaves, crushed
1 whole bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (750 ml bottle or 3 cups) dry red wine
2 cups or a 14 ounce can beef stock
1 teaspoon grape jelly
1 pinch of salt
About the butter. Yes, there's a lot, but don't use margarine and don't leave any out. Butter is better. There is something special about the chemistry of butter that helps enrich and thicken this sauce. That's why we don't use flour or corn starch to thicken it. It doesn't matter if it is salted or unsalted. If it is salted you may just want to skip the pinch of salt at the end.
About the wine. Look for a wine that is not high in tannin. That's the component of young reds, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, that makes your tongue feel as though you've been licking a dusty window sill. Also, try for a wine that is low in acid. That's the component that makes the wine very tart, typical of Pinot Noir and Beaujolais. Steer away from the cheap jug wines that often have preservatives and rubbery flavors. Merlot is a good choice, as is Australian Syrah. You can even use a ruby port, but if you do, skip the jelly because the wine is sweet. I've even had good luck with wine from the closeout bin. You don't need to spend more than $10 per 750 ml bottle.
About the tomato paste. There's just a little bit in this recipe, but don't hesitate to open a can. You can freeze the rest. I scoop the leftover into 1 tablespoon dollops, freeze them on a sheet pan, and then dump them into a zipper bag in the freezer. Then, whenever I need a little bit of paste, it's right there in pre-measured amounts. If you don't have tomato paste, in this recipe you can substitute ketchup.
About the beef stock. You can skip the beef stock and use 3 tablespoons of demi-glace, which is essentially a veal stock heavily reduced, and just add it with the wine. There will be less liquid then and reducing the sauce will take less time. Click here for more on sauces, stocks, broths, etc.
About the jelly. The French recipe calls for red currant jelly, and purists will lapse into apoplexy when the see the use of Concord grape jelly, but it does a great job of rounding out the middle and adding complexity. Concord grape jelly is my first choice because it is so bright and fruity, but you can use other dark fruits like cherry or raspberry (seedless, please). In a pinch, you can use sugar, just use 1/2 the quantity of jelly.
1) In a large frying pan melt 3 of the 5 tablespoons of the butter and add the onion, carrot, celery, rosemary, sage, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Cook over a high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the onions begin to brown. That's why we use a non-stick pan, when you reduce liquid this much, it can really make a mess of other pans. By the way, the mix of 2 parts onion, to 1 part carrot, and 1 part celery is called a mirepoix (MEER-a-pwah), and is a foundation of French cooking and is common in soups, stuffings, and, of course, sauces.
2) Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 3 minutes until it begins to darken. Add the wine and the beef stock. Boil for 30 minutes. Pour everything through a strainer into a saucepan, and squeeze the juices through the strainer with a ladle or whatever you used to stir the veggies.
3) Boil over high heat until it is reduced to about 1 cup and keep an eye on things so they don't burn. Add the grape jelly and stir until it is thoroughly dissolved. Turn off the heat, taste and add salt if necessary. It will not be thick and goopy like ketchup, it will be more like egg nog in thickness. If you are not planning on using the sauce immediately or don't plan to use it all, you can store it in the fridge or freezer.
4) When you need the sauce, warm it and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and when it is thoroughly melted, swirl it around with a spoon and serve immediately. Do not whisk in the butter, just swirl it. This is called "mounting it" with butter (yes, that's the correct technical term). If you feel decadent, add another tablespoon.
Optional. Taste and add a dash of balsamic vinegar and splash hot sauce just for the fun of it.