Sauce Demi-Glace Recipe: How To Make The Ultimate Classic French Sauce
Ah, Sauce Demi-Glace… The perfect beefy sauce! A most treasured, often misunderstood curiosity of the French sauce kitchen – an important part of French culinary history that is mastered by few but cherished by many lovers of French haute cuisine.
Sauce Demi-Glace atop a beautiful piece of Rib Eye Steak… Life on earth is good!
Today in these pages, we explore the history, the composition and the recipe of Sauce Demi-Glace – the perhaps most labor-intensive and flavorful French sauce of all time – through my own experiences and personal history. As always, if all you really want is the recipe, click here, or read on for a bit of background and history.
Sauce Demi-Glace: a labor of love an intensity
When, some 15-20 years ago, I first got into the art of sauce making, Demi-Glace – the iconic, liquid, brown jewel of beef-based French sauces – was one of the first sauces, I tried my hands with. Because, really, how hard could it be?
Maybe I was suffering a momentary lapse of sanity at the time, maybe I was being foresighted of a geeky culinary fascination to come… Maybe I’d just hit my head! Regardless of cause and underlying reason, my early sauce adventures are probably exactly why I’ve since enjoyed a certain amount of respect for my sauce-making skills. Sauce Demi-Glace, as it turned out, is about the most time-consuming culinary project one can undertake. But also, as it turned out, one of the most awe-inspiring dishes one can whip up for guests.
Sauce Demi-Glace is a monolith of the French sauce kitchen: a labor of love, time and dedication, a tale of hours upon hours spent simmering, reducing, skimming and flavor-building. It is, undoubtedly, the finest, purest and most intense beef-based sauce the French kitchen has to offer and a perfect end to what has become our beef stock trilogy as it built upon both homemade beef stock and Sauce Espagnole. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, let’s take a moment for the uninitiated to define just what on earth Sauce Demi-Glace really is and why this classic, elaborate and incredibly labor-intensive sauce still matters in the modern kitchen.
Getting to Grips with Sauce Demi-Glace
When I first decided to try my hands with homemade Demi-Glace, I had no real idea what exactly I was getting myself into and why. All I knew was that Demi-Glace was the height of French cuisine, the King of Sauces and thusly something I wanted to make at home. I was young and stupid at the time: how hard could it possibly be to create this mythical French sauce?
Well, on the bright side, it turned out to be a not particularly difficult task at all. It did, on the other hand, turn out to be quite a time-consuming task! While Demi-Glace in itself is not a quick process, an even larger part of my first successful Demi-Glace had to do with defining just what on earth Demi-Glace really is or isn’t. Demi-Glace means a lot of different things to a lot of different cooks and is sometimes erroneously used to refer to a vast array of beefy sauces. Hence, the recipes I looked at during my initial research varied greatly in terms of ingredients, procedure and not least complexity.
Sauce Demi-Glace is a special occasion kind of sauce – here seen adorning our New Year’s Eve Tenderloin steaks…
A confusing task it was to sift through a number of recipes and articles on the subject so in order to examine exactly what sauce Demi-Glace is, it’s probably better to start stating exactly what demi-glace isn’t: No matter what restaurateurs, menus or websites try to tell you, Demi-Glace is never an au jus, it’s not a gravy, a pan sauce, a simple brown sauce or even an Espagnole for that matter. Demi-Glace is also not a sauce that is generally made in smaller quantities for a single application.… It’s a completely different sort of beast! Alright, but then what the hell IS Demi-Glace?
What is Sauce Demi-Glace?
In figuring out exactly what Demi-Glace was, I ended out not only pouring through numerous recipes online and offline, comparing and drawing parallels, figuring out shared procedures and elements. I even called up my mom’s boyfriend at the time, a classically trained French chef. He listened to my pleas and turned me on to the works of Escoffier and his classical Demi-Glace recipe which eventually provided me with the generally accepted definition of Sauce Demi-Glace:
Demi-Glace, quite essentially is an insanely labor intensive sauce created from a half and half mixture of basic dark beef stock and Sauce Espagnole that is carefully simmered until reduced by half. It all sounds nicely plain and simple but as with most products of the French kitchen, it is a little more complicated than that, of course. The actual process of making Demi-Glace from scratch takes at least a day, often more, as it involves first creating a flavorful beef stock, reducing this stock down to desired intensity then transforming parts of it into a Sauce Espagnole only to combine everything back together and reducing it down even further to create the mythical, intense and awe-inspiring final product that is Demi-Glace.
Demi-Glace in the making… A lengthy process if ever I’ve witnessed one!
It is this simple, yet incredibly lengthy process that gives the iconic sauce not only it’s distinct, intense taste but also its name. Demi-Glace is a correlation of the French words demi, meaning half, and glace, meaning glaze, in reference to the resulting quantity and the thick, coating texture of the final sauce.
Why bother making Sauce Demi-Glace?
As my initial research into the subject showed, making Demi-Glace at home is no straight-forward task. It’s not a (particularly) difficult task, but it is, however, a lengthy one.
As we’ve already established in part 1 of this saga, a good beef stock takes time and with the addition of sauce making, rest periods and a bit of sleep you’re looking at a 24+ hour process to create a proper, flavorful Demi-glace. So how the hell is demi-glace even a thing? Surely no-one can be bothered to undertake this much work for the sake of sauce? Well…
Demi-Glace traces its roots back to the finer French kitchens and a time when time and resources allocated for cooking were far more abundant. Cooking took place over open fire or wood-fired stoves and was often undertaken by a dedicated kitchen staff. This means that large stock pots were often left to simmer on the stove as a part of every day preparations, leaving both time and resources for the cumbersome task of nursing a stock and a sauce for what may well have been days on end.
Today, on the other hand, Demi-Glace is sadly somewhat of a historical curiosity mainly produced in restaurant kitchens or by masochist, amateur cooks such as myself – and that’s a crying shame, because in many ways, the flavors of an all-natural homemade Demi-Glace are second to none.
Is homemade Demi-Glace really worth the effort?
But why, pray tell, would anyone in their right minds go through the hardships of making Demi-Glace in the 21st century? One obvious but perhaps not very satisfactory reason is historical and culinary curiosity. Another, perhaps more compelling reason is flavor: Demi-Glace is pure essence of beef bones, liquefied and reduced to the point of soul-shattering intensity. Take but one lick of this magical essence and I guarantee that all your valiant efforts will be rewarded! And remember, with Demi-glace a little really goes a long way. A mere tablesppon is all you need to coat a steak or to add unique depth and flavor to any beef-based sauce.
Two day’s worth of cooking efforts? For a liter of sauce? Wonder not, you’ll understand once you taste it!
As with basic beef stock, the workload is about the same whether you make half a cup or a couple of liters. I suggest you take advantage of this fact and plan ahead. Make Demi-Glace for those special occasions but make more than you need, then freeze and use throughout the next six months as steak sauce or a base for other sauces. I’m not going to lie, it’s quite a bit of work up front, but nothing really beats serving homemade Demi-glace for your New Year’s Prime Rib knowing fully well that you’ll be able to harvest more liquid gold from the freezer in the months to come.
Sauce Demi-Glace recipe: How to make the King of French Sauces
All this talk about time and intensive labor aside, making Demi-Glace could actually not be easier – provided , of course, that you’ve already spent a day or so, producing a classic dark stock as well as a portion of the classic mother sauce, Sauce Espagnole. We’ve already covered these essential processes in Parts I and II of this series. Having these base ingredients on hand, pretty much all you do is combine and simmer.
First thing first, though, a fair bit of warning. When making Demi-Glace or other intense reductions, it is important to work with unsalted stock! As the liquid reduces, the salt level intensifies greatly leaving you no way to predict the final salt content of the sauce. All you can really be certain about is that it will most likely end up somewhere between dangerously high and inedible. When making Demi-Glace or other strong reductions, always start with unsalted stock and unsalted or a lightly seasoned Espagnole, then season to taste at the end of the cooking period!
- 1 liter dark beef stock
- 1 liter Sauce Espagnole
- 100 ml fortified wine (Sherry, Madeira or Port)
- Salt to taste
- 1 leek leaf
- A few sprigs of thyme
- A few sprigs of parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- In a suitable pot, mix beef stock and Sauce Espagnole then add bouquet garni.
- Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then back the heat down to medium.
- Reduce mixture skimming as needed until reduced to about 900 ml or just under half.
- Add fortified wine, stir to combine and allow to come back to a simmer.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed.
- Remove bouquet garni and strain sauce through a finely meshed sieve before serving.
Note on authenticity: To be truly authentic veal bones MUST be used for the dark stock. Can't find veal bones? Go ahead and use beef.
Cheat Demi-Glace: How to make a quick Demi-Glace
So, you want to make Demi-Glace, but you don’t want to go through the day or so needed to produce a proper stock for the purpose? If Demi-Glace seems entirely too much work for you, but you still want a reasonable approximation with a lot less work, you can obviously go ahead and use premade stock and sauce from the freezer. If the entire concept of stock-making seems strange and scary to you, you’ve no choice but to go for a store-bought stock.
If you do go for store-bought, make absolutely sure you get a product that is as natural as possible and first and foremost low sodium or salt-free! Check the labels and ingredient lists here, seriously. Salt is a natural flavor-enhancer and most supermarket stocks are absolute salt bombs!
Your best choice is likely to talk to your friendly neighborhood butcher. They may have homemade beef stock they will be able to part with for a fair price – especially if they run a catering business on the side. Or try talking to your friends – we all have that crazy friend (in the case of our tightly knit group of friends, that would be me) who makes excessive amounts of stock every now and then and may be willing to part with a liter or two…
But, I digress, as a final resort, check out a well-stocked supermarket for a natural, no sodium (or very low sodium) alternative available in bulk. Once you’ve got our stock, simply follow this recipe to make Sauce Espagnole, and then consult the recipe above on how to make Demi-Glace… Go on, we won’t tell anyone you cheated!
How to use Demi-Glace in cooking: Culinary Uses for Sauce Demi-Glace
Congratulations, whether you took the long, hard road or jumped the zippy shotcut, you’ve gone and done it, you’ve produced the liquid, brown crown jewel of the French sauce kitchen: Demi-Glace, the ultimate sauce!
Rib Eye Steak -the perfect canvas for Sauce Demi-Glace
Undoubtedly, Sauce Demi-Glace is one of the most demanding ventures of the French kitchen and you should rightfully feel proud having produced it! But now what and how to use Demi-Glace, you ask? Luckily, there are many uses for Sauce Demi-Glace even those far beyond the obvious trick of “simply” serving it up as a sauce:
Demi-Glace can certainly be consumed as a sauce for an elaborate special-occasion main dish, but it is also most suited as a base and intensifier of other elaborate sauces. Mighty Escoffier, the Father of modern French cooking himself, actually dictates that his iconic Demi-Glace recipe be used as a base for all other lesser brown sauces. Excessive, granted, but certainly a hell of a way to start off a sauce. Try a Bordelaise sauce based on Demi-Glace, for example, for an out-of-body culinary experience.
Not content with mere sauces? Demi-Glace even makes a perfect base for beefy stews. Use it in place of regular beef stock for a much deeper, richer and intense flavor: Goulash or pot roast enriched with Demi-Glace? Don’t mind if I do!
Steak f’ing frites! The ultimate Demi-Glace application?
Want my personal favorite Demi-Glace application? I like to keep it simple, believe it or not! Well, as simple as one can after having spent a couple of days making sauce… Grab a healthy slathering of Demi-Glace and simply slab it on a good, flavorful piece of rare to medium rare beef like Prime Rib or Rib Eye Steak. Add a pile of fries and a bottle of red wine and you’ve got a rocking bistro-style Steak Frites:
It’s neither haute cuisine or very refined if I’m honest, but damnit, it’s sexy as fuck!