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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bad News for “Au Jus Sauce” Lovers

Say "No" to "Au"

I've got bad news for you folks who love those French Dip sandwiches with au jus sauce. There's no such thing.

I wrote a piece awhile back about TV chefs who inappropriately overuse the word “caramelize” when they actually mean “brown." I don't care how many famous cooks say it, you can't “caramelize” meat. Read the article here: http://ronjamesitaliankitchen.blogspot.com/2013/02/brown-dont-caramelize.html

An anonymous commenter on that post wrote the following: “THANK YOU!! I yell at the TV every time some “celebrity chef” says they are caramelizing meat, chicken, even seafood. Rachael said once that scallops are “just so full of sugar, they get that great caramelization on them.” But can we discuss “au jus?' Every time I hear a TV chef say, “now we'll make the au jus,” or “dip it in the au jus.” Aaaargh! It's JUS. Au jus means “with juice” (from the meat.) You cannot make a “with juice.” But you can serve something with juice “au jus.”

Thank YOU, Anonymous Commenter. I'm glad to know I'm not a lone voice crying in the culinary wilderness.

Anonymous is quite correct: you can serve a dish “au jus” – as in beef au jus – but you absolutely cannot serve a dish WITH au jus. If you order beef with au jus, you are not asking for beef with juice, you are asking for beef with with juice. And that's just silly. As silly as dipping your sandwich in a little cup of “with juice sauce.” It's like instead of ordering shrimp en brochette – literally, shrimp on a skewer – you were to go to a nice French restaurant and order up shrimp with en brochette. They'd probably bring you a shrimp and a stick. After they stopped laughing at your ignorance.

Let's face it, the only real difference between a “celebrity chef” and the person who cooks at your favorite local eatery is the “celebrity” part. (If you doubt this, check out Food Network's "Next Food Network Star.) They both do the same thing: they cook. Just because a good cook gets a lucky break and lands on the tube doesn't automatically make him/her infallible. There are a lot of celebs out there who barely made it through high school – if they made it through at all. They may be superior cooks, but don't look to them to be gifted linguists and educators.

And that's really the sad part because so many people do look to them for instruction and education. After all, if they're on TV, they must know what they're doing, right? That's why it drives me positively batso when they say things like “caramelize” instead of “brown” or “au jus” instead of just “jus.” Some home cook watching TV says, “Oooo. Rachael Ray says the scallops are caramelized, so I guess it must be so.” Then she turns to her husband and says, “Hey, honey, what do you think of the way I caramelized the scallops tonight?” And the error repeats and gets bigger and bigger.

Listen carefully when you're watching “Chopped” or “Top Chef” or some of the other shows that showcase cooks and chefs who don't have agents and handlers and publicists. “I basted the meat in jus,” or “I browned the beef and I'm serving it with a side of jus.” These are the people who paid attention in culinary school.

Alas, I'm afraid Anonymous and I are destined to be frustrated. “Au jus” has become ubiquitous through common (mis)usage. You'll find a hundred recipes for it online and you'll see packaged “au jus” mixes in the grocery store. But it's still not right. Just because a bunch of people – even “celebrities” on TV – say that one plus one equals three, that doesn't mean that one plus one actually does equal three, now does it? Repeating something wrong doesn't make it right and it only makes the person doing it sound – how can I say this politely? – stupid to people who know better.

“Jus” is a noun that means juice. It's pronounced “zhoo.” Kind of like “shoe” with a “z.” Or even “jew” is acceptable if you can't make your lips and your tongue and your sinuses do weird things like the French do. “Au” is a masculine singular contraction. It literally means “to” or “to the,” but it is most frequently used to connect other words. Kind of like “di” in Italian. “Di” can mean “of,” “to,” “by,” “for,” “from,” “in,” or – you guessed it – “with” depending on the circumstances. So, in French, “au” is frequently used as “with.” And it's pronounced “oh.” When you say “jus,” you're saying “juice.” When you say “au jus,” you're saying “with juice.” Thinking of it in English will make a lot more sense because you know better that to say, “I'd like me some of that there with juice sauce.” Don't you?

Or maybe you're one of those people who call an ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) an “ATM machine” for which you need a PIN (Personal Identification Number), which you refer to as a “PIN number.”

To quote my new best friend, Anonymous, “AAAARRRGGGHHH!!!)

Okay. I will now cease flagellating the expired equine. I think I'll just go brown some meat and make a nice, well-seasoned juice to go with it.

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