8 Swanky Sauces to Glamorize Dinner

By Marla Walters on 7 January 2010 (Updated 13 January 2011) 9 comments

What I love about a great sauce is that it can transform an inexpensive dinner into something that looks and tastes pretty glamorous. think a lot of home cooks shy away from them, thinking that (1) they are hard to make or (2) are too expensive. My first money-saving trick is to use a sauce intended for one recipe on a cheaper cut of meat, poultry, or fish. My second trick is that I often cut the recipe in half. You don’t need a lot of sauce — just a couple of tablespoons, to enhance flavor. Here are some of my favorites sauce receipes.

Piccata Sauce

Lemons and capers are the hallmarks of this easy sauce. My recipe, from my mother’s recipe box, went over scallops. But have you priced scallops, lately? Try it over budget-priced tilapia or chicken. Here's great basic recipe for Piccata sauce .

Mustard-Chive Sauce

For a fancy dinner party, it’s hard to beat Pork Medallions with Mustard-Chive Sauce (Bon Appetit, October 2004). This meal has a huge wow factor. Guests have threatened to lick their plates. But pork loin, unless purchased on sale, tends to be pricey. Good news — the sauce is also terrific over chicken, firm white fish or a pork chop. This is another one I cut in half, because unless you are cooking for six, you really don’t need 1 2/3 cups of sauce.

Mom’s Teriyaki Sauce

This was one of my favorite things when I was a kid. Technically, this is also a marinade. My mother would marinate cubes of beef in this sauce, skewer them, and Dad would grill. The extra sauce is boiled and reduced to serve on the side. The best part is the leftovers. I actually prefer the skewers cold. She used flank steak, which is usually a less expensive cut, but I have also used chicken thighs and they are great.

½ C. Soy Sauce

¼ C. Salad Oil

2 T. Molasses

2 tsp. Ground Ginger

2 tsp. Dry Mustard

2 tsp. Chopped Garlic

Combine and add 1 pound of cubed flank steak or chicken thighs. Refrigerate and marinate three hours. Skewer and grill. Boil remaining marinade to pour over top of skewers.

Peanut Sauce

Check out Andrea Dickson’s Peanut Sauce post and you’ll find three wonderful recipes. I am always watching for cans of peanuts to go on sale so that I can make one of her peanut sauces on the spur of the moment. It is incredibly versatile.

Pesto Sauce

To be honest, I was not a huge fan of pesto until last year, when I planted basil in my vegetable garden. Freshly picked basil, to me, makes a huge difference in the quality of this sauce. Now I make it regularly. Rather than to cut this recipe in half, I freeze the leftovers in little cups (ice cube trays would work, too). That makes for a really fast dinner when you boil some pasta. The expensive ingredients in pesto are the pine nuts. Celebrity chef Ina Garten combines walnuts with pine nuts, which she claims enhances the flavor. I tried it, and I agree. It also reduces the cost.

Tonkatsu Sauce

Here in the Islands, some of us eat our weight in Chicken Katsu. It’s an integral part of a mixed plate lunch. It is traditionally served with tonkatsu sauce. If you don’t want to spring for skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, substitute thighs. This sauce would even be good with kids’ chicken fingers, out of the box. Check it out at allrecipes.com. It’s simple, delicious, and really inexpensive.

Tarragon-Caper Sauce

Doesn’t Chicken with Tarragon-Caper Sauce on Mixed Greens sound fancy? It is. This is a fantastic light supper. The sauce is tangy and refreshing. When it’s just for two of us, I cut this recipe in half. It calls for boneless chicken breasts, but hey, it’s also great on leftover turkey or rotisserie chicken.

Port Wine Sauce

I saved the flashiest sauce for last. I think the first time I made it, for a big dinner party, I went all out with a prime rib. The good news is it’s so tasty, you can put it over a chuck roast and people will still rave. I cannot always find dried cherries so have substituted dried cranberries, which worked fine. The extra-good news about this sauce is that the recipe comes from Carrie Latt Wiatt’s book, Portion Savvy: The 30-Day Smart Plan for Eating Well. That makes it a lower-guilt sauce.

My last money-saving tip: plant a little herb garden. Many sauce recipes call for a small quantity of tarragon, chives, rosemary, etc. Even if you are an apartment-dweller, you can grow herbs inside on a windowsill.

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Guest's picture
Robert

The peanut sauce sounds delicious!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Love this over porkchops!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Lets relive Christmas!

Guest's picture
ReRe

The peanut sauce IS delicious, Robert - we've made it. The rest of them sound great, too. (Not sure what any of these have to do with Christmas, though, Travel Blogs?). Thanks for sharing, Marla!

Guest's picture
Lucille

If you know how to make a white sauce (bechamel) you know how to make hundreds of sauces. Many sauces are just twists on a white sauce. I have leftover turkey cooking in the oven in a white wine garlic cream sauce to go with some wild and brown rice in the rice cooker. Sauces with wine don't need to be expensive either. I keep two large bottles of wine in the fridge for cooking in the winter. A bottle of white Cavit brand and either a cheap but good red that is on sale or a bottle of Livingston Burgundy. Livingston isn't the best wine in the world but it is drinkable and tastes fine in recipes.

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Marla

Lucile, that's a great one, and one I had forgotten about. Thank you for adding that! Also, I agree with your assessment of Livingstone wine - I usually throw a 1/2 cup into my spaghetti sauce. Tx, also, for comments, Robert, Rere, and Linsey. (Linsey, now I need to dig some pork chops out of the freeze to try!)

Guest's picture

Thank you for the GREAT ideas! I'm always trying something different with the chicken and pork that I buy on sale and I will definitely be trying these.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Slammin' post, Marla. These all sound amazing and right up my alley. Thanks for glamming it up. These will really help to jazz up meals for those of us trying to pull off style on a budget.

You can also follow me on Twitter and Trek Hound.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for the shout-out on the peanut sauce article (I know I'm a little late to the party, but I only just finally saw this article)!

And I LOVE piccata sauce. It's the best way to dress up white meat, rice, or veggies.