Want to know how to make the richest, most decadent, flavorful and intense red wine sauce known to man? Then look no further than to Sauce Bordelaise: an intense mix of red wine, shallots and pure, intense beefy goodness, usually used for topping steaks and grilled meat that sits at the pinnacle of classic, French hedonistic cooking.
Sauce Bordelaise will be the, till now, wholly unexpected fourth installment in our epic sauce series which has by now taken us in chronological order all the way from homemade beef stock over the classic “mother sauce” Espagnole to the iconic and rich Demi-Glace which, as luck would have it, forms the base of our next saucy adventure: Bordelaise.
But just what IS Bordelaise? Do a quick Google search and you may end up with a variety of different views and recipes, all of which seem to agree on only about one thing: Sauce Bordelaise is a sauce made with red wine and concentrated beef stock.
Well, let’s see if we can break it down a bit more than that, shall we?
What is Sauce Bordelaise
Sauce Bordelaise, as the name may suggest to the French savvy readers out there, is a classic sauce from the famous French region of Bordeaux. More specifically, Sauce Bordelaise is a sauce made from a reduction of red Bordeaux wine, shallots, herbs and Demi-Glace finished with bone marrow.
Sauce Bordelaise under way!
Now, if you’ve read our other posts on the topic of sauce, you’ll be well familiar with the subject of Demi-Glace – or ultra-rich, ultra-decadent beef glaze, if you will. In the grand, saucy scheme of things, Sauce Bordelaise plays the part of a derived sauce (a concept introduced here) made from Demi-Glace which is, in turn, derived from Sauce Espagnole. That’s right, we’ve come full circle here! And for those of you out there who did not find our Sauce Demi-Glace venture quite lengthy and challenging enough, here’s an extra addition to the process for you to try your hands on: Sauce Bordelaise, the ultimate red wine sauce.
The obscure history of Sauce Bordelaise
The history of Sauce Bordelaise is illusive to say the least. Like most people of my generation, I consider myself a pretty avid Googler and even I haven’t been able to turn up much on the subject of Bordelaise history to be honest. Unlike other iconic French sauces like Sauce Espagnole, Demi-Glace, Hollandaise or Bearnaise, you see, Sauce Bordelaise cannot be tracked back to one particular chef or one codified recipe. At least not at the hands of this culinary researcher.
This article over at The Reluctant Gourmet suggests, quite convincingly, that the raeson for this is simple as can be. Bordelaise is more of a regional sauce than one particular codified sauce recipe. That is sauce done in the style of Bordeaux, sauce a la Bordelaise, rather than a sauce according to the gospel of Chef Escoffier, Chef Carême or a similarly famous historic chef.
One chef’s or one family’s recipe might differ from that of another chef or family – and a result, probably at least a dozen recipe variations will show up if one were to perform a simple Google search on the matter. I should know. I’ve tried. Many a time over the years.
Many a time have I made Sauce Bordelaise, or reasonable approximations thereof using a number of recipes. Which is why, having tried at least a couple of recipes of varying complexity, I can now say with some amount of certainty that I have compiled what I consider to be the ultimate Sauce Bordelaise recipe… It’s not exactly the simplest of Bordelaise recipes (in case you were somehow expecting that from the hand of the Johan). It will, however, be the deepest, richest, most flavorful and intense sauce recipe I have ever shared. Promise.
Ingredients for Sauce Bordelaise
While no canonical recipe for Bordelaise exists, most trusted-sources recipes I’ve dug up – including the one coined by chef extraordinaire Auguste Escoffier – agree on five basic ingredients for a proper Bordelaise sauce: shallots, herbs, red wine, demi-glace and bone marrow. Which, in all fairness is all one needs. That and love. All you need is love, wine and sauce.Ahem, I digress… Anyway…
In this recipe, we’ll stay true to form and start our Bordelaise with a reduction of shallots, thyme and red wine which we will then enrich with demi-glace and finish with bone marrow. We will, however, be adding a little twist of our own, but more on that later.
Ingredients for Sauce Bordelaise… Can you guess the secret ingredient already?
First things first, let’s start things off with a look at our mystery ingredient of the day: bone marrow!
Now, if you’re confused on the subject of bone marrow, it’s basically the rich, solidified fat tissue found inside beef bones. You know, the stuff that makes Osso Buco tasty and homemade beef stock rich and flavorful. This wonderful substance, when heated for extended amounts of time, can be rendered down to a fatty and intensely beefy oil-like liquid which can (and should) be used to add flavor and texture to sauces and other dishes.
And if that all somehow sounds disgusting to you (hey, it does to some), do yourself a favor and simple think of it as beef butter! As that is about the sort of impression it will add to the final dish: a rich, intense, beefy and buttery flavor and mouthfeel.
If you’re looking to get a hold of bone marrow and have no idea how, you’ll be glad to know it’s easier to acquire than you may think. Simply ask your butcher (or even the local supermarket) for beef marrow bones which are usually available for soup making and other purposes. From here on onwards, you can either scoop out the marrow needed through use of suitable amount of brute force Or, better yet, extrude it through the wonderfully therapeutic process that is stock or sauce making.
Beef marrow bones… Now doesn’t this look appetizing?
As a matter of fact, if you’ve followed our sauce guide from beginning to end and made your own stock using beef or veal marrow bones, you will have come across bone marrow already. You know, the fatty substance that solidified as a layer on top of the beef stock that you peeled off after cooling? That’s rendered bone marrow and can used be in exactly the same fashion as raw bone marrow. If only you preserved it at the time of cooking as I suggested.
Oh, and don’t worry, if you can’t get a hold of beef marrow or you’ve gone not listened to your buddy Johan and dumped the lot during the sauce-making process, you can still make Bordelaise. Simply substitute butter and you’ll still have a great and flavorful, albeit not quite as rich and decadent, sauce.
Bone marrow, after all, is but one ingredient of proper Bordelaise, One equally (or more) important part of the equation is wine! And not just any kind of wine!
Bordeaux or Claret: Picking the right Wine for Sauce Bordelaise
Wondering which wine to pick for a Sauce Bordelaise recipe? Well, that used to be east. The name of the wine is sort of hinted in the name and history of the sauce itself, after all. The traditional wines for making Sauce Bordelaise are, of course, the red wines from the Bordeaux region of France. Now, as some of you may know, the wines of Bordeaux – well some of them anyway – also rank amongst the most famous and expensive wines in the world. This simple fact has caused the general prices of Bordeaux wines to soar quite a bit in that past years… and has caused quite a headache for home cooks: Because, really, do you event want to cook with that seemingly expensive bottle of Bordeaux wine? No, say some – quite loudly – and this probably explains why many modern Sauce Bordelaise recipes will instruct you to use any dry, red wine of your choice in place of Bordeaux.
And well, substitutions are fine and all, but in the mind of this culinary conservative flavor junkie, there’s but one minor problem with this recommendation: The signature blend of grapes used in Bordeaux – and to some extend the characteristics of the soil in which they are grown – is really what lends Sauce Bordelaise its signature flavor and character.
For this very reason, I would strongly advise anybody against using anything but a Bordeaux blend for Sauce Bordelaise, even if it does drive up the price a bit. Which, in my mind, is sort of okay… Bordelaise, you see, should be a special occasion sauce, reserved for the holidays for birthdays, or for wooing that special someone… If we shouldn’t splurge here, then where? Where, I pray ask!
I mean, go on, live a little! It’s okay to treat yourself, your special someone or your guests every now and then. Really. Still looking for persuasion? Well, here are three solid reasons to help you make the choice:
- Given the rather intricate procedures involved in creating this particular sauce, it’ unlikely that you will be making Sauce Bordelaise every other day. Why not make those few days a year special and splurge a little extra on the wine. Go all in and call it date night if you must, she/he will love you for it! Promise!
- Here’s the deal. Not all Bordeaux wines are created equal and not all of them horribly expensive. You certainly do not need the most expensive Bordeaux you can find for the job: Use a young, low profile wine for the job and enjoy whatever you don’t use in the sauce on the side. Either while preparing dinner or with the meal. There are plenty out there in the $10-20 range that will not only do the job well, but also pair incredibly well with the resulting meal – it’s in the sauce, after all!
- Let’s be honest here: If you’re looking at Sauce Bordelaise from a cost perspective, you’re looking at it in the wrong damn way! This sauce requires a lot of ingredients, a lot of work and a damn lot of time. Pop that slightly more expensive bottle for the job, have a glass while cooking and enjoy the remaining half of the bottle afterwards with dinner. Live a little, you’ve damn well deserved it!
And with that, I hope I’ve convinced you to try a proper Bordeaux for the job. If you really can’t find one for the job or have some sort of aversion towards Bordeaux for whatever your (faulty) reasons may be, then at least look for something that says Claret blend on the bottle.
This description generally covers wine that are made with a traditional Bordeaux blend of grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlo particularly), though not in the region of Bordeaux itself. As a result, depending on your location, they’ll usually be a fair bit cheaper and more easily available while still maintaining many of the characteristics of a Bordeaux wine .
Right! With that rant out of the way, it’s all pretty smooth sailing from here. The ingredients from hereon are pretty straight forward: a bit of thyme, some shallots, a little time… And then, of course, our secret ingredient hinted at earlier.
Bordelaise with a twist: supercharging flavor with bacon
Remember how I said our Sauce Bordelaise recipe would include a bit of a twist? That twist, ladies and gentlemen, is bacon – glorious bacon! Now, before anybody starts throwing stones at me, I realize this is probably by no means a traditional move, but I have my reasons.
See, I had the tremendous honor lately of helping my good friend Allan scrutinize and finish up his life’s work: an entire book on the beauty of bacon. As I flipped through a near-finished copy of his work, offering notes and suggestions as requested – while at the same time struggling to finish this post, I was reminded of something:
Years ago, my mother was dating a chef turned wine importer. A strange man in many ways, but an undeniable talent in the kitchen and a wizard into the art of sauce-making. Long story short (too late, I know), this ex flame of my mother taught me two important lessons in life:
1) how not to treat women.
2) the two only secret ingredients – if ever there were any – to truly amazing sauce are as follows: booze and bacon.
Now, being a red wine sauce, I think we’ve got the booze part of the culinary equation covered, but there’s still the matter of bacon, glorious bacon! Adding just a little bit of bacon (or even pancetta or other cured and/or smoked meat) to a sauce really adds incredible richness and depth while even boosting other flavors due to the inherent (and beautiful) salty, umami notes offered by quality bacon.
Scenes from my buddy’s book, appropriately titled “Bacon – Moments of Happiness” – available here. Photo Credit: Ømands Bacon
We’re not talking a lot here, as little as 25 grams will make a world of difference and it doesn’t even have to be the prettiest of pieces either. Scraps and trimmings will do just fine here as we will be straining it out afterwards. What matters is that you use a quality bacon – like say my buddy Allan’s (#notasponsor) as to provide a nice, deep, rich yet subtle and natural flavor of cured pork and smoke.
It may not be entirely traditional, but it’s fucking beautiful… Let’s cook!
Sauce Bordelaise, the ultimate recipe
Ready to cook? Awesome… Before we get started, just one important pointer, though: As mentioned, an integral part of this Sauce Bordelaise recipe is Demi-Glace. Proper Demi-Glace.
If you’re up for the challenge, you really should try making your own using our insanely popular and somewhat involved Demi-Glace recipe (hint: I’ve included an easy cheat version as well). If you’re not up for the challenge, Demi-Glace is usually available for purchase at better butchers or even well-assorted supermarkets. Just promise me one thing, if you do buy your Demi-Glace from the supermarket, at least check the ingredients and the label. Try to get something that at least sounds somewhat natural, slow-simmered and respectful towards the art that is classic French cuisine. Please.
Sauce Bordelaise Recipe: Classic French Red Wine Sauce
Tried and tested authentic recipe for Bordelaise. A classic French wine sauce recipe from the Bordeaux region.
- 25 grams bacon
- 2 shallots finely minced
- 5 thyme sprigs
- 200 ml red wine
- 200 ml Demi-Glace see note above recipe
- 25 grams bone marrow
- Add bacon to a cold sauce pan and set pan over medium heat.
- Cook bacon until fat has rendered and bacon is nearly crispy.
- Add shallots to sauce pan and cook for about a minute until soft and fragrant.
- Add thyme sprigs and wine to sauce pan.
- Bring winemixture to a simmer and simmer until liquid is reduced by about 2/3.
- Strain liquid, removing the onions and thyme sprigs.
- Return the wine reduction to the pot along with the Demi-Glace and bring back to a simmer.
- Simmer for about 5-10 minutes to allow flavors to mingle, then turn heat to low and whisk in bone marrow in intervals of about 5-10 grams at a time.
- The marrow will melt and slowly emulsify into the sauce, continue whisking as this happens to create a smooth, silky, thick sauce. Then serve immediately over perfectly cooked red meat.
Serving Sauce Bordelaise: Steak, Frites, Bordelaise!
Looking for Sauce Bordelaise serving suggestions? Well, you’re in luck here, young grasshopper. There is really only about one! Bordelaise really needs very little in terms of serving.
Simply spoon over your favorite piece of red meat, be it steak or Prime Rib, then serve to the perfect date with a glass of red wine and a pile of Triple-Cooked Chips or other favorite red meat side dish of choice.