Sitting down to dinner is a bummer when you realize you’ve eaten the same basic meal four nights in a row. Cooking something wildly inventive every night just isn’t in the cards, so jazzing up your routine can be tough with a limited amount of time to cook during the week. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to play with flavors without much work. All you have to do is whip up a simple topping. Even if you have a broiled chicken breast every night, these seven sauces will make it taste completely different, and completely delicious, every time.
1. Easy Pan Sauce
The name says it all for this one. The Kitchn’s simple sauce recipe is more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast recipe, so feel free to change it up based on what you’re cooking and what you have on hand. You can add garlic, fresh herbs, a squeeze of mustard, or pretty much anything else you think would taste good. You can also make it in the same pan you used to cook your protein, so there won’t be any additional dishes.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- ¼ cup red wine, white wine, beer, cider, or other flavorful alcohol
- ¾ cup vegetable, beef, or chicken stock, plus more
- 2 tablespoons butter or a splash of cream
- 1½ teaspoons cornstarch whisked with 2 tablespoons water or stock
- Salt and pepper
Directions: Clear out the skillet, pouring off all but a tiny bit of the leftover fat. Add the oil and shallot. Cook over medium-high heat until shallots are softened and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine, beer, or cider. As the liquid simmers, use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan. Let the liquid reduce by half, about 3 minutes.
Add the stock and let mixture return to a simmer. Reduce liquid to about ½ cup, about 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the butter or cream, and whisk until completely incorporated. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture, and cook until thickened. If sauce becomes too thick, add another splash or two of stock. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.
2. Butter and Sage Sauce
Brown butter with sage is a classic sauce for gnocchi, ravioli, and tons of other types of pastas, but there’s no reason you have to stick with noodles. The nutty sauce is also great for lean proteins like chicken and fish, and you can use any fresh herbs you like. Give it a try with Better Homes and Garden’s recipe. Heads up, you’ll probably need to add a sprinkle of salt if you’re serving this with meat.
This recipe can also easily morph into a classic french sauce if you add a squeeze of lemon and some chopped capers. It’s called grenobloise and tastes phenomenal with any type of mild fish.
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil, sage, oregano, parsley, or chives, or ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- Pinch of black pepper
- 2 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano, Asiago, or Parmesan cheese, if serving with pasta.
Directions: In a medium saucepan, combine butter and garlic. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until butter is lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in herbs and pepper. Drizzle over protein of choice, or pasta with a sprinkle of cheese.
3. Traditional Chimichurri
This vibrant condiment made with herbs and vinegar hails from Argentina where it’s a staple to serve with grilled meats. Apart from these particulars, little is known about the history of this sauce. SFGate said stories about the origin of the name range from a meat wholesaler’s name that suffered a severe case of mispronunciation to a variation of a basque word. Regardless of where the word comes from, it’s tasty stuff.
Though you’ll find tons of recipes for the herbaceous sauce online, this version from Michelle Bernstein, which she shared with Food & Wine, is one of the easiest. Just blend the vinegar, herbs, and garlic, then stir in the olive oil. This sauce tastes great on steak, fish, vegetables, and pretty much everything else.
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped parsley
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons oregano leaves
- 2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Directions: In a food processor, combine parsley, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Blend until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the olive oil and let stand for at least 20 minutes before serving.
4. Beurre Blanc
French food is known for complex techniques and long cooking times, so it’s a delightful surprise to see how easy it is to make a classic beurre blanc. The only tricks to this sauce are making sure the heat isn’t too high, and adding the butter gradually. We like Saveur’s version, which was adapted form Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This sauce is pretty rich, but it makes a great treat every now and then. It’s also a spectacular recipe to impress your sweetheart.
- 3 cups cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch of white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Directions: Bring wine and vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Add shallots, salt, and pepper. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, but pan isn’t dry. Add a splash of water if it goes a little too far.
Remove pan from heat and whisk in two pieces of butter. Set pan over low heat and continue whisking butter into sauce one piece at a time, allowing each piece to melt before adding another.
Remove sauce from heat and whisk in lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning. Strain into a bowl and serve.
5. Romesco Sauce
Another classic sauce, romesco comes from Spain where it’s usually served with fish. This recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food is a great go-to since it uses ingredients most people already have on hand. The thicker texture of this condiment makes it a great dip for veggies, which is a nice change of pace from hummus. Make a batch for your next get together, and prepare to see jaws drop.
- ¾ cup blanched slivered almonds
- 2 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
- 1 slice white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, and squeezed to remove seeds
- ¼ cup jarred pimientos, drained
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Directions: In a large skillet over medium heat, cook almonds, garlic, and bread, tossing frequently, until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
Place almond mixture in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add tomatoes, pimientos, vinegar, paprika, and cayenne. Process until smooth. With motor running, stream in oil and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Serve. Keeps for up to one week in the refrigerator.
6. Italian Salsa Verde
If you’re looking for a huge pop of flavor, Italian salsa verde is the way to go. It’s loaded with garlic, anchovies, parsley, and capers. This version from Serious Eats also features a bit of lemon, which gives the sauce a nice hit of citrus. This is another versatile condiment you can use on fish, beef, pork, or chicken. It’s also great with lamb, so say goodbye to mint jelly forever.
- 1½ cups packed, roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup capers, drained
- 3 anchovy fillets
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Directions: Place parsley, olive oil, capers, anchovies, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and lemon zest in a food processor. Pulse until parsley is finely chopped, about 10 (1-second) pulses, stopping to scrape down bowl. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl and serve.
7. Roasted Tomato Salsa
We don’t typically think of salsa as much more than a dip for tortilla chips, though it’s sort of silly when you realize the word is Spanish for sauce. Try Rick Bayless’s roasted tomato rendition for a taste that will blow away your basic pico de gallo. Best of all, it’s incredibly simple since it uses fire-roasted tomatoes from a can. All you have to do is toast some garlic and chiles, blend them with the tomatoes, then stir in some lime juice and cilantro. Try it over chicken with rice.
- 1 to 2 fresh jalapeños
- 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes in juice
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Directions: In a small, dry skillet set over medium heat, roast chiles, and garlic, turning often, until soft and blotchy brown. Chiles will take about 10 minutes and garlic will take about 15 minutes. Let cool, then stem and chop the chiles. Peel garlic. Add both to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add tomatoes with juice and pulse until mixture forms a coarse purée. Transfer to a serving dish, stir in cilantro and lime juice, and season with salt. Serve.