Anyone who’s ever learned how to make sauce vierge will know that the use of the word sauce in its title is perhaps a little misleading. Sweet tomatoes, fragrant coriander seed, and freshly chopped soft herbs, all mingled together with fruity extra virgin olive oil is definitely something I’d call a dressing.
For me the word sauce conjures up images of rich, silky, indulgent liquids made with large amounts of cream and butter. Sauce vierge on the other hand is something a lot lighter, better for you, and ultimately very tasty.
It’s little wonder that it’s a sauce I come back to again and again. It’s a classic companion for any type of white fish, shellfish, and even works well with pasta. Any leftovers make a great dressing for potato salad too.
Sauce vierge translates as virgin sauce. Maybe the name comes from the use of virgin olive oil in the recipe, I’m not sure. It was made popular by the french chef Michel Guérard, one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine. A recipe for it first appeared in his book La Grande Cuisine minceur. Its since gone on to become a modern classic
Probably the best thing about sauce vierge is it’s quite quick to knock up. A little chopping and stirring and its job done. It’s also a great little sauce to have in your repertoire as the simplest version and the one I first learned how to make has just four ingredients, and the odds are you’ll have them lying about the kitchen. Its a handy sauce to know if your stuck and can’t think of anything to serve with a piece of fish or if you haven’t done the shopping.
How To Make Sauce Vierge
First you’ll need coriander seeds. Toast them in a pan and then crush them in a mortar and pestle to release that fragrant nutty flavour.
Next add your tomatoes. I like to use the smaller sweeter cherry tomatoes. Plum tomatoes are good, heritage and heirlooms too. At work we remove the skins by dipping them in boiling water and refreshing them in ice water. This part is optional but you will want to remove the seeds before you chop them up. Which ever type of tomatoes you use, make sure their ripe. The riper the sweeter.
Now its time for your olive oil. Use extra virgin if you can for its fruity flavour but pumice will do too. Trickle a little over the tomatoes and coriander seeds, don’t drown them. There’s nothing worse than a sauce vierge with a couple of pieces of tomato swimming in a lake of olive oil.
Lemon juice next. Stir in the juice of a half a lemon and take it from there. Give your vierge a quick taste and if you like it more tart, simply squeeze in a little more.
Last up is the basil, but wait until you’re just about to spoon your vierge over the fish before you add it. The lemon juice will turn it black in no time at all. Chop it up if you like. In the restaurant we do a fancy chiffonade of basil, but at home I just add whole leaves or rip the bigger ones in half.
Basil isn’t the only herb you can use. I’ve come across many a tasty vierge with a whole range and different mixes of soft herbs. Dill, chives, chervil, parsley, and tarragon are all possibilities.
Herbs aren’t the only additions you can make to the classic sauce vierge recipe. I’ve tried a ton of recipes from books over the years. Marco Pierre White famously adds olives to his for a nice salty kick (capers do a good job of this too)
The legendary Roux brothers add garlic to theirs. Gordon Ramsay’s puts shallot confit and balsamic in his. Quit a tasty recipe I seem to remember. Point is, you can really add what you want.
You’re not supposed to serve sauce vierge with oily fish like mackerel and salmon. The thinking been that the whole dish will be too greasy. While it’s true that vierge work best with the sweeter flesh of white fish like cod, haddock, or monkfish… I’ve never the less come up with a recipe.
The trick here is not to drown the rest of your ingredients in the olive oil. You want a sauce vierge with a salsa type consistency. I also like to roast the tomatoes in the oven a little first to get their sweet juices flowing. Plenty of lemon juice is also used to cut the richness of the fish and lots of basil right at the end for a fresh kick. The result is a sauce vierge with an enticing fragrance and flavour that you could happily serve with just about any fish.
Purists might say that the recipe below isn’t a real sauce vierge and I suppose they’re right. It does use all the classic ingredients though and is the perfect companion for a fillet of freshly fried mackerel or salmon.