What The Hell Is A Gastrique?

The best thing about learning how to make a gastrique is that it's extremely easy for the clueless chef to do. It makes a simple dish look like it just came across the kitchen line of a four-star restaurant. Easy to pull off and automatically classy, this basic sauce is the true definition of "dress to impress."

In a nutshell, a basic gastrique is a reduction of vinegar and sugar that can be infused with just about anything you'd like — from liquor and alliums (garlic, onions, shallots) to any fresh (or not-so-fresh) fruits you have on hand. It's meant to bring out the assertive flavors and saltiness of meat, and look good while doing it.

When I'm looking to dress up a relatively simple dish in which the ingredients really speak for themselves, like pork tenderloin, a nice steak or duck breast, my go-to gastriques at Los Angeles restaurant Cafe Del Rey are brandy and blueberry.

Brandy Gastrique

  • 1 liter brandy
  • 1 liter sherry vinegar
  • 1.5 lbs of brown sugar
  • Blueberry Gastrique

  • 3 cups blueberries
  • 2 liters Champagne vinegar
  • 1.5 lbs of brown sugar
  • The steps are pretty much foolproof: in a sauce pot, combine vinegar, sugar, and whatever single ingredient you choose, and let it reduce over a low flame until it's about half of the original volume. At that point, it should nicely coat the back of a spoon — just dip and swirl to test it out.

    Both of these variations — and really any version — can be used with countless other proteins like poultry and fish. What you ultimately get is a marriage of two strong flavor profiles, sweet and sour, just not too sweet.

    Now if you're a real food adventurer, have fun with the process and make a gastrique suited for sweet dishes like French toast and ice cream. Add a little more sugar to your sauce pan and balance out that vinegary tang — I recommend using the blueberry recipe to start. The amount of extra sugar is really up to you, to reach the point where you feel the mixture is sweet enough for your taste. To each his own, which is really and ultimately the whole point of cooking.

    Take a recipe and use it as an outline for your own interpretation. The point of cooking is to have fun and explore your inner chef even if it means throwing out a few batches of blueberry goop before getting the reduction just right. Run with your own variation. Hopefully with these recipes in hand, you'll be able to excite your own dinner guests (and breakfast guests, for that matter).

    Daniel Roberts is Executive Chef at Cafe Del Rey