Inside Martha Holmberg's Modern Sauces

We've got ten reasons why the Portland-based food editor and author's saucy new book belongs on your holiday wish list.

By Allison Jones November 16, 2012

Award-winning magazine editor, Paris-trained chef, and Portland-based cookbook author Martha Holmberg released her latest book Modern Sauces: More than 150 Recipes for Every Cook, Every Day (Chronicle Books; $35; 256 pages) in October, and here are ten reasons why you should add a copy to your holiday gift wish list:

1. The stunning tome is broken down into Vinaigrettes, Herb Sauces, Tomato Sauces, Vegetable Chile & Nut Sauces, Butter Sauces, Cream Sauces, Mayonnaise Sauces, Hollandaise Sauces, Gravy Jus & Pan Sauces, Sabayon Sauces, Custard Sauces, Fruit Sauces, Caramel Sauces, and Chocolate Sauces, PLUS over 50 full dishes designed to show off the saucy stuff. In short, the book covers every kind of sweet or savory sauce an at-home cook could possibly desire (and then some). 

2. Holmberg treats sauces as the Main Event, not an afterthought. Here in Portland, we have access to the best ingredients and are apt to shy away from fussy food in favor of simplicity and comfort. Sauces can easily transform a shopping basket from the farmers market into a refined meal without a lot of time-consuming preparation.

3. The sauces in the book require ingredients you're likely to find in your own pantry or fridge, especially if your pantry or fridge includes a lot of butter

4. If you're a novice cook, a great sauce can turn an extremely simple meal into something worthy of company, and if you're the kind of cook that doesn't typically turn to cookbooks, Modern Sauces could prove a one-stop resource for topping off your own inspired kitchen improvisations. 

5. Measurements and temperatures are listed in both customary and metric units, so you can take the book on your European vacation and use the oven and kitchen tools in the gourmet-kitchen equipped chalet you've rented for the season.

6. Seared skirt steak with garlicky fried potatoes and "steak sauce" hollandaise. 'Nuff said.

7. Each chapter in Modern Sauces opens with an in-depth guide to the history and science behind each sauce category, as well as troubleshooting tips, serving sizes, and any necessary special equipment. 

8. Every recipe includes storage tips (so you can refrigerate or freeze your sauces for use when they're needed) and "quick change" suggestions to help you improvise, such as swapping in a different herb, adding additional spice, or using alternative sweeteners. 

9. The Gravy, Jus, and Pan Sauce chapter will single-handedly banish the anxiety of last-minute holiday dinner prep. Unlike other chapters, with separate recipes for each sauce, the Gravy section reads as a cohesive guide to transforming pan drippings into rich, complex sauces (wether you're cooking a turkey or roast beef). 

10. Holmberg's laid-back writing style means these sophisticated recipes are paired with a dose of real-world advice. In the Custard Sauces chapter, Holmberg writes, "A Perfectionist cook always strains a custard sauce as a final step, but I'm lazy so I don't strain, unless I see unwanted bits of egg to banish." Reading through the book, you get the feeling that she's on your team, and wouldn't have you doing unnecessary work for the sake of tradition alone. 

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