Done right, sauces, glazes, dressings, relishes, chutneys and salsas can amount to the icing on the cake of an otherwise humdrum meal.

Done smart, the transformation can be accomplished in a snap.

Leftover roast beef, pulled apart with forks, then dressed with sauce whipped up from ketchup, vinegar and brown sugar, creates the centerpiece of a second-day meal with a completely different flavor profile. It can be served as barbecued pulled beef with a crusty baguette and arugula salad topped with olive oil, salt, pepper and a crumble of blue cheese. Better yet, stuff the bread with the beef and salad, for a sandwich. Either way, no one will think leftovers.

Pick the bones of Sunday’s roasted chicken dinner and then top the gleanings with a salsa of diced avocado mixed with minced red onion, chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice and salt. The combination can top a plateful of crispy tortilla chips that have been generously sprinkled with shredded Cheddar cheese and popped into the oven for quick melting. Who doesn’t like nachos?

Pull a pack of pork chops from the freezer, defrost in the microwave, pan-fry then plate them. De-glaze the pan with a splash of white wine, spoon in some apricot preserves or orange marmalade as well as a generous pat of salted butter. The sauce comes together before the chops even have a chance to cool off. With steamed broccoli on the side, the plate is a colorful clarion call to the dinner table.

A homemade accoutrement for any entree, even ones such as a grilled ribeye or seared sushi-grade tuna steak that stand tall on their own, will elevate the meal. It’s all about layering.

And there’s real science beneath it all. Just ask a scientist.

“Basically, what you’re doing when you add a sauce is you’re creating a scenario where more of the senses are stimulated,” said Leslie J. Stein, director of science communications for the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

There are five accepted taste qualities: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.

If you serve roasted chicken for dinner, a bite of that meat will stimulate the senses of umami as well as salty, Stein said.

But if you add a pan-Asian sweet-and-sour sauce to that same serving of chicken, the number of taste qualities doubles to include, yes, sweet and sour.

“You enhance your dinner with a far more complex flavor experience,” she said.

By shifting gears and adding a spicy-and-sweet barbecue sauce to that chicken, you’ve layered your meal with chemethesis, which actually triggers the touch system of the body by activating nerve endings in the mouth and nose with a kind of chemical burn. “It’s technically not a taste quality, but you’ve got an extra sensory sensation. It’s layering,” she explained. Other examples of chemethesis are the tingle of carbonation and the burn of mint.

In sum, adding a sauce or a salsa or a glaze makes for a richer dining experience.

 

Best Peanut Sauce

Makes 1 cup.

Note: This sauce is delicious with sushi-style summer rolls. You can use it for chicken or pork satay, as well. From Allrecipes.com.

• 1/2 c. crunchy peanut butter

• 2 tbsp. soy sauce

• 1 tsp. sugar

• 2 drops hot pepper sauce

• 1 garlic clove, minced

• 1/2 c. water

Directions

In a small bowl, stir together peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar, hot pepper sauce and garlic until well mixed. Gradually stir in water until texture is smooth and creamy.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons:

Calories 100 Fat 8 g Sodium 290 mg

Carbohydrates 4 g Saturated fat 2 g Total sugars 2 g

Protein 4 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

Exchanges per serving: ½ high-fat protein, 1 fat. 

 

Spicy Mango Barbecue Sauce

Makes about 2 cups.

Note: This sauce made according to the directions would be a tasty go-to with any roasted meat and even fish. But, here’s a cheat: Purée the mango to a chunky consistency and combine with your favorite bottled barbecue sauce, and it’s yummy and easier yet. Adapted from Pierre Franey.

• 1 medium mango, peeled and sliced

• 2 tbsp. olive oil

• 1/2 c. finely chopped onion

• 1 tbsp. chopped garlic

• 1 c. ketchup

• 1 tbsp. Dijon-style mustard

• 2 tbsp. corn syrup

• 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

• 1 tsp. Tabasco sauce, or to taste

• 1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Place mango in the bowl of a food processor and purée to a coarse texture.

In a saucepan, combine the olive oil, onion and garlic. Sauté briefly over medium-high heat or until wilted. Add ketchup, mustard, corn syrup, sauces, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and mango puree. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons:

Calories 55 Fat 2 g Sodium 170 mg

Carbohydrates 10 g Saturated fat 0 g Total sugars 7 g

Protein 0 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 0 g

Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, ½ fat. 

 

Red Wine Sauce

Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Note: Is there anything better with beef than a classic red wine sauce? This is beautiful with fine steak and also leftover beef short ribs. Be forewarned, even with a half-cup of wine, this sauce is very thick. If you want it runny, use a full cup of wine. If frying a steak, prepare the sauce in the same pan in which the steak was fried so the brown bits can be deglazed to become part of the sauce. Adapted from “Simply Delicious,” by Paul Bocuse.

• 3 shallots

• 1 medium onion

• 1 oil-packed anchovy fillet

• 3 1/2 tbsp. salted butter

• 1/2 c. Burgundy wine

• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Mince shallots, onion and anchovy in a food processor or by hand. Combine them in a medium bowl.

Heat butter in a skillet until melted. Add shallot mixture to the skillet. Cook over medium heat for about 6 minutes, until softened. Stir in wine. Once it starts to bubble at the edges, let it cook for about 2 minutes to form a slightly thickened sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons:

Calories 50 Fat 4 g Sodium 50 mg

Carbohydrates 3 g Saturated fat 3 g Total sugars 1 g

Protein 0 g Cholesterol 10 mg Dietary fiber 0 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 fat.