One of the most extraordinarily extravagant and extraordinarily delicious sauces in my repertoire is a Red Wine Essence I adapted from the late chef Charlie Trotter years ago. Because it will keep for months in the fridge, the powerful sauce is my secret weapon to call upon at any time I want to transform simple foods into complex dishes. It is cunningly easy to make.
It is extravagant because it requires two bottles of red wine and one of Port to prepare: three liters are boiled down to a scant cup. In his original recipe, Trotter recommends using a fine red Burgundy, whose cost would be stratospheric. I find it works just great with a decent vin ordinaire. Even then, a batch will cost upwards of $30. It is worth every penny.
The resulting reduction yields a rich, suave essence of wine so highly concentrated that only a small amount –1 or 2 teaspoons — is fine to sauce a serving. I have used it to sauce racks of lamb; grilled steaks; roast chicken, game birds or venison; roasted onions, potatoes and mushrooms; fried eggs; vegetable and noodle gratins, even meaty fish like striped bass and salmon. It is perfect with the seared duck breast with Parsnip Fries, above.
It never fails to floor guests with pleasure and make them think I have spent hours and immense skill making it: just the effect I want.
I make batches for myself, and occasionally to give as a gift, with instructions taped on the jar, along with the amazing info about its making: three+ bottles of wine packed into a small jar, like a genie.
Recipe: Red Wine Essence
Use a full-bodied wine with good fruit and little tannin, such as a pinot noir or malbec. The recipe can be doubled if you use a bigger pot and are willing to let it reduce longer.
Makes about ¾
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, pared, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 apple, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon neutrally flavored vegetable oil, such as grapeseed
2 bottles of dry red wine
1 bottle ruby port
1 cup homemade or low-sodium chicken broth
In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, apple and the oil. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have begun to “sweat”, about 8 minutes.
Uncover, increase heat to moderate, and sauté the vegetables, stirring frequently, until they have caramelized to a deep golden brown.
Add the wine and the port, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Turn down to a low boil and reduce the wine two hours, to about 1 cup.
Strain into a small saucepan, and add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook down to a scant cup, about 45 minutes longer. For an even more concentrated flavor, the sauce can be reduced down to 1/2 cup if desired.
Serve warm. a teaspoon or two is more than sufficient for a serving. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge.