I like food with flavor. I went to school in southern Louisiana and learned to really love Cajun food as well as the traditional Southern food on which I was raised.
I’m trying to eat healthier, but I have no desire to give up yummy food. So, I get frustrated when I read that eating healthy requires that I eat only plain food without sauces. I love sauces and gravies. When I was in med school in New Orleans, Mr. Math Tutor and I would go to Copeland’s and have delicious seafood and pasta with thick, rich cream sauces.
When I cook, though, I don’t make “real” cream sauces. I’ve learned to modify a basic white sauce to substitute for the rich (and not-so-healthy) cream sauces we enjoy at restaurants. By my calculations, 1/4 cup of my faux white sauce has about 75 calories, while the same amount of cream sauce has over 200 calories. Here’s how I do it:
- 2 Tbsp white flour
- 2 Tbsp butter or oil – I use butter sometimes, but I like to use olive oil for a pasta sauce.
- 1 cup liquid – The original recipe I use calls for 1 cup milk, but I often use part skim milk and part broth. Other times, I may use mostly broth with just a splash of milk.
- Whisk the flour and butter or oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Do not brown (or you’ll get gravy).
- Slowly add the liquid, whisking until combined.
- Cook until the sauce thickens.
- Divan sauce – use half broth and half milk for the liquid. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese after the sauce is thickened. If it is too thick, whisk in a little more milk.
- Cheese sauce – when the sauce is done, add 1 cup of shredded cheese. Usually, I use cheddar cheese, but life can be more interesting with Gruyere or a mixture of Gruyere and smoked Provolone. Experiment till you find what you like!
- Cajun cream sauce – start by using olive oil. Add some chopped onion, garlic, and green pepper and cook until they are softened. Add the flour and whisk well. Use half milk and half broth for the liquid. Add cayenne and/or paprika to taste. Add cheese, if desired.
- Brown gravy – use vegetable oil instead of butter. Brown the flour until it is pleasantly brown and has a nutty aroma. You may need to use another tablespoon or so of flour than called for. Use broth or juices from the meat as the liquid. Make sure to start adding liquid as soon as the flour is browned so you don’t burn the flour. (Alton Brown made a roux in the oven the other day on Good Eats. Seems rather blasphemous to me, but check out his show if you’re interested.)
There it is – my comprehensive guide to sauces that won’t add hundreds of calories to your meals. Of course, on special occasions, you may want to use a little half-and-half or cream as part of the liquid. And, to keep the calories under control, watch the portion size. 1/4 cup of sauce should be enough for most meals. You can vary this recipe endless ways so don’t be afraid to try new things.
Do you have any other great sauce ideas or additions? Let me know in the comments! Check out Tempt My Tummy Tuesday for more great recipes and I Am Blissfully Domestic for hints and helps for the domestic life.
Special thanks go to my mom for teaching me such a versatile skill as making white sauce.