international sauces on a table

8 International Sauces Every Chef Should Know

Sauces are one of the most important aspects of a chef’s arsenal, lending layers of flavor and texture to anything they adorn. 

Accordingly, the five French mother sauces — velouté, béchamel, hollandaise, espagnole and tomato — are an extremely important part of a culinary curriculum, as they are a starting point for many more complex sauces and preparations. The French don’t have a monopoly on the form, however, no matter how important the mother sauces are to master. (Neither do the Italians while we’re at it, though they do have an impressive roster as well.) 

Every cuisine on earth lays claim to a multitude of sauces, relishes or garnishes, many of which are quite simple to put together and lend a tremendous amount of flavor to both traditional and contemporary dishes. By no means an exhaustive list, here we take a closer look at eight sauces from around the world that every chef should know.

India: Chutney

From the Indian subcontinent, chutney is typically a fruit-based relish that combines sweet, savory and sometimes spicy elements to accompany breads, proteins or cheese. Chutney definitely invites experimentation, given the variety of fruits, aromatic elements and spices that are common and appropriate to include. Chutney may be prepared in a blender for an emulsified texture, but can also be more rustic in style with hand-chopped elements.

Chef Palak’s Dosa Recipe with Green Chutney

Peru: Aji

Peru claims more than its fair share of the world’s top restaurants, and it’s no wonder, with its particular culinary point of view which emphasizes brightness and freshness. Aji is a condiment that is named for the particular pepper which is typically pulverized to comprise the basis for the sauce, and is available in several colors and levels of heat,. Coming together with little more than a blender, aji also usually contains tomatoes, onions and cilantro or other herbs, and may also contain a thickening or enriching agent such as egg yolk, oil or even a little salty cheese. Incredibly versatile depending on its varying levels of heat, aji can be added to soups, used for an empanada or fried plantain dunk, or spooned over grilled meat.

Spain: Romesco

The grinding of peppers is the starting point for many excellent sauces on this list, and Spanish cuisine also has one to offer. A departure from the more bright and spicy entries here, romesco utilizes roasted red peppers, which aren’t necessarily spicy, but that add a smoky depth of flavor. Romesco is typically also prepared with almonds, paprika and a bit of torn bread for a pepper sauce with a richer texture. Try it as a pasta sauce or with seafood, or it can masquerade as sauce’s sassier cousin: dip. 

Read more: Sauces and Soups with Sarah Tane

Sicily: Caponata

Caponata is Sicily’s answer to France’s ratatouille, where a foundation of melted eggplant plays host to a plethora of other savory ingredients, for a sauce that can almost be a meal unto itself. Olives and capers add a touch of brininess, tomatoes and herbs add acidity and freshness and, occasionally, raisins and pine nuts are invited to the party for a little sweetness and texture. As Sicily is an island, caponata is an especially good sauce for grilled seafood.

Indonesia: Peanut Sauce

Peanut butter can often seem like a distinctly American thing, especially if you’ve traveled to Western Europe where it doesn’t have much of a presence. (The exception being The Netherlands, who adopted peanut sauce into their own cuisine due to their former colonization of Southeast Asia.) That said, peanut sauce is ubiquitous in Indonesian and other Southeast Asian cuisines, especially as a condiment that is offered with meat skewers, called satays.

Peanut sauce, or sometimes simply called satay sauce, combines roasted peanuts with other aromatic components such as coconut milk, ginger, garlic and tamarind. (Peanut butter can stand in for a quick and easy peanut sauce, but for the real deal you’ll want to grind the peanuts yourself.)

Get the recipe: Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Yemen: Zhoug

Similar in style to aji, zhoug is becoming more common in the US (in part due to the fact that Trader Joe’s added it to their grocery lineup). A staple of Yemeni cuisine, zhoug is both spicy and herbaceous, its main ingredients being peppers and cilantro, with a little depth from cumin. In Yemen it is believed to prevent illness and strengthen the heart. Not only for proteins, zhoug is also an excellent dressing for vegetable or grain salads. 

Greece: Tzatziki

Greece’s tzatziki gets extra credit as a sauce, not only because it is extremely versatile and can also function as a marinade or dip, but also because its strained yogurt base makes it an excellent source of protein unto itself. Garlic-forward and rich, tzatziki often includes thinly sliced or shredded cucumbers, dill or other herbs, vinegar or lemon juice, and a little olive oil to create fluidity.

Related:Great Street Food of New York

Argentina: Chimichurri

At a glance, chimichurri seems to be in the same vein as many of the green sauces above such as aji and zhoug, but its backbone is one of herbs and oil rather than peppers. An important dressing for the grilled steaks that are essential to Argentine cuisine, chimichurri can function as either a marinade or a finishing sauce, or both. Chimichurri is composed mainly of chopped parsley and oregano, bound by olive oil with garlic and vinegar.

Chimichurri in action: Grilled Chimichurri Flank Steak


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