If you wanted to keep only one light sauce in your repertoire, which you would enjoy so much and make so often you’d have the recipe memorized, I’d recommend Bois Boudran. It has a tomato-y base, a generous amount of fresh herbs, and a light touch of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Wonderful with celeriac, divine on fish, worth trying on nearly anything except dessert.
It’s also an example of how a recipe is not carved in stone, and as its creator’s tastes change, the recipe changes too.
Bois Boudran is the creation of Chef Michel Roux who, along with his brother Chef Albert Roux, has had more influence on English food in the late 20th century than anyone I can think of, besides Elizabeth David. Mrs. David gave us the foundation, and the Roux brothers demonstrated and taught the art.
Brief background on the Roux brothers: they were born in France, and after early stints as private chefs for the English and French aristocracy, came to London in 1967 to open their restaurant, Le Gavroche. From there, they built their businesses: restaurants, an executive dining division, a scholarship, books, and consultancies, all of which taught and influenced thousands of chefs who are now spread worldwide – a diaspora of Roux-trained culinary professionals.
Bois Boudran recipes are numerous online, and nearly all are identical to the recipe I have now, which I received from my executive chef – himself a protégé of Chef Albert – during my first job in London. I’m guessing that this recipe was used at the Roux restaurants and at Roux Executive Dining, was learned and passed along by any number of chefs who worked there, and so found its way through the industry to be posted online – no bad thing.
But Chef Michel is not one for idleness, and the original recipe is no longer the definitive version! Chef Michel developed the sauce in the early 1960s while working for the Baroness Cécile de Rothschild in Paris, but he has re-worked it, and his new and improved Bois Boudran appeared a couple of years ago. There are several significant changes to his original sauce: tomato sauce instead of ketchup, fewer herbs and shallots, less Tabasco, peanut oil in place of olive oil.
He serves his sauce with poached salmon, and when I made his updated recipe this week, it was wonderful — elegant and subtle.
But . . . I confess that I prefer the cheekiness of the earlier Bois Boudran. I like the extra spice and sweetness from just the right ketchup, and the fistful of fresh herbs. A few tweaks of my own have crept in: using less than half the original amount of olive oil, and reducing the shallots even further than Chef Michel has done. Chervil is hard to find around here, so I use dill instead. Red wine vinegar, to my palate, is a fruitier support to the sauce than white, and in some uses a bit of salt doesn’t go amiss.
(Please let me digress regarding ketchup. I hadn’t wanted to reveal the secret ingredient prematurely, because I worried that it would take away the sauce’s credibility. But one of my culinary school instructors – a Frenchman – told us that French chefs in general loved ketchup, and at that time, it was a standard ingredient in French kitchens. Such widespread use is plausible when you learn that France drastically reduced the use of ketchup in school cafeterias in the autumn of 2011 — the kids were slinging it on everything. Sound familiar?)
At the restaurant, I made Bois Boudran nearly every week for our version of satay – strips of grilled chicken, threaded on bamboo skewers, were marinated in bowls of the sauce and served buffet-style. At home, I’ve used it as a sauce for grilled tuna, as a dip for hunks of roasted potatoes, and as a dressing for celeriac julienne, as in today’s recipe – an alternative to celeri rémoulade.
Bois Boudran sauce is sassy, not aggressive, and that’s why it works with celeriac. Celeri rémoulade, thin twigs of raw celeriac with a dressing of crème fraîche, vinegar, Dijon mustard, capers, and cornichons, is a French bistro classic but sometimes there’s an uneasiness about it, as though all the flavors are close to falling off a tightrope. The sharpness of the rémoulade dressing can be too aggressive for the vegetable. Bois Boudran comes into it’s own here, as it does not overwhelm the celeriac, but complements it – the flavors of celeriac and tarragon are not dissimilar, and they are brilliant with the ketchup.
These ways with Bois Boudran – with celeriac, potatoes, chicken, tuna, salmon – are only suggestions. You can top eggs with it, or daub it onto soft goat cheese on a biscuit. Try both recipes, the older one here, or the updated version. Either way, it’s the creation of a master and while you’re enjoying Bois Boudran in any form, don’t forget to raise a glass to Chef Michel Roux.
I’m pleased to enter this recipe into Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking with Herbs Mediterranean Challenge for September! Check out the other great herb-rich recipes there by clicking on the icon above.
Celeriac Bois Boudran
Serves four as a side dish; makes about 200ml / 7/8 cup of sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Chef Michel Roux
60ml / ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
85g / ¼ cup + 1 teaspoon ketchup (see note below)
30ml / 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
5 drops Tabasco sauce
14g / leaves from one 18g box of tarragon
6g / 2 tablespoons snipped chives
5g / 1/3 cup dill weed
25g / ¼ cup finely diced shallot (see note below)
kosher or sea salt (optional)
1 head of celeriac, approximately 500g / 18 ounces
1) Combine oil, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire, and Tabasco in the bowl of a mini-processor and whizz until very well mixed, about 30 seconds. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.
2) Strip the tarragon leaves from their stalks; one 18g supermarket box of tarragon will give you the right amount of leaves. Pick the dill weed from the stalks, pile up with the tarragon, and mince the herbs finely with a very sharp knife. Snip the chives with kitchen scissors, and combine the herbs.
3) Mince the shallot in a mini processor, or cut it by hand into a fine dice, also called brunoise.
4) Combine the diced shallot, the minced herbs, and the liquid mixture and stir well. Cover and set aside.
5) Skin the celeriac with a serrated knife by cutting a slice from the bottom to steady it on the cutting board. Slice the peel off by following the curve of the celeriac. Take your time with this step!
6) Cut the celeriac in half, and run it through the julienne blade of your food processor, if you have one. If not, run it through the 1/8″ slicing blade (or use a mandoline, if you’d rather), and then cut the slices into julienne by hand. It should take no more than 10 – 15 minutes.
7) Taste the Bois Boudran sauce for salt; usually, it does not need salt at all because of the salt in the ketchup. In a large bowl, toss the celeriac julienne with about 120ml / ½ cup of the sauce. Taste and add more sauce if you wish. The salad is now ready to serve.
8) Both the sauce and the celeriac are best on the day they’re prepared; while the taste doesn’t suffer the next day, the herbs do lose their color and the celeriac droops. If looks don’t matter, all will be well.
- Please use the highest quality ketchup you can find; the lower the sugar and the more piquant the spicing, the better. My choice here is Trader Joe’s Organic Ketchup; you may have a better one still.
- If shallots are not to be had, scallions will work.
- To cut a shallot into brunoise, slice the shallot in half lengthwise, but do not cut off the root end — just trim the little roots off. Take one half of the shallot and, with a small knife, slice it horizontally from the stem end almost to the root; there will be room for three cuts, maybe four. Then make five or six vertical cuts, again along the length of the shallot, so the shallot now looks a bit like a brush. Holding onto the root end, now slice the shallot at right angles to your vertical cuts; it will fall into reasonably tidy small dice. Do the same with the other half. It takes longer to explain than to accomplish; and this is not a recipe for which the dice needs to be perfect!