A sauce is good when the rest of the meal becomes a vehicle for it: when you intentionally tear too much romaine so that you can dip the leaves into the "leftover" dressing or when you plan to have crusty bread (and extra spoons) around.
A sauce is a great when it's flexible—a marinade and a vinaigrette, a slicken-er for cold noodles and a softener for crunchy slaw. Even when it seems you've made more sauce than you could possible get through, you always end up at the bottom of the jar, ready for another batch.
Here are 16 of our greatest sauces—unearthed from the longer recipes in which they were hidden—and a few ideas about how to use each one. Instead, skip the whole shebang and just make the sauce: Use it to dress up leftovers, to give a little bang to a stir-fry, or however else you want.
1. Green Sauce = parsley + basil + garlic + anchovies + red pepper flakes + olive oil + lemon
Swirl it into a grain salad; use it to marinate chicken; smear it on the inside of a grilled cheese.
2. Coconut-Lime Dressing = coconut milk + lime juice + fish sauce + sugar
Use it to marinate shrimp or coat a cold soba salad or a cabbage slaw.
3. Mushroom Sauce = butter + olive oil + shallot + mushrooms + red wine + fresh thyme + Worcestershire
Just add pasta! Or mashed potatoes! Or polenta! Or any roast (or leftover roast) you please.
4. Sauce Niçoise = garlic + tomatoes + olives + capers + lemon juice + parsley
Serve it over any cooked fish, but also chicken, steak, polenta, grilled or roasted vegetables, orzo...
5. Lemon-Mustard Sauce = cream + lemon juice + butter + tarragon + lemon zest + mustard powder
Spoon over any spring vegetable—or use it to brighten roasted winter squash when you're feeling cold and lonely. Dollop on top of green soup, too.
6. Toum = garlic + lemon + salt + egg white + canola oil + ice water + mayonnaise
Eat with falafel, use a dip for pita chips, pour into a bowl and place tabbouleh directly on top, spoon directly into your mouth...
7. Basil Sauce = basil + Greek yogurt + olive oil + water + garlic
Mix into quinoa, fold into roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, drizzle over brown rice.
8. Apple Cider Sweet & Sour Sauce = apple cider + apple cider vinegar + brown sugar + tomato paste + soy sauce + cornstarch
Dollop on hash browns or roasted potatoes, rewarm with black beans and shredded pork, or use as a marinade for tempeh.
9. Carrot Top Chimichurri = carrot tops or parsley + cilantro + oregano + jalapeño + garlic + red wine vinegar + olive oil
Marinate meat before grilling or roasting, then top with more once it's been cooked. Use as a dressing for a rice salad; add a couple of spoonfuls to a pan of chickpeas sautéing in olive oil.
10. Romesco = ancho chiles + nuts + olive oil + bread + tomatoes + garlic + parsley + lemon juice
Slather on grilled bread, then shave Manchego over top. Or drop over grilled onions, spread onto a burger bun, or mix into marinara to boost your pizza topping.
11. Leeks and Butter Sage Sauce = leeks + butter + olive oil + white wine + chicken broth + heavy cream + fresh sage
Serve with any poultry (dress up chicken tenders!) or use the sauce for baked pasta. Add lots of cheese. (And try variations of the sauce, too: Swap onions for leeks and rosemary for sage, for example.)
12. Spicy Ginger-Soy Glaze = ginger + soy sauce + brown sugar + rice vinegar + honey + chile flakes
Turn a tofu and broccoli stir-fry sticky, spicy, and slightly sweet. Mix into fried rice. Spoon over fried fish, then wrap in a tortilla.
13. Peanutty Sesame Sauce = sesame oil + soy sauce + Sriracha + fish sauce + peanut butter
Stir into sautéed kale (or use as a dressing, massaging it into the raw leaves) or use as a sauce on any kind of long noodle. Toss with roasted or steamed green beans. Spread onto roasted corn, then roll in chopped peanuts and sprinkle with cilantro.
14. Ponzu = soy sauce + bonito + lemon juice + lime juice + mirin (sweet sake) + rice vinegar + kombu + red pepper flakes
Sauce cooked fish, douse thinly sliced cucumber or tomato, add a splash at the end of your stir-fry.
What are the sauces you make on repeat—or the sauce you'd love to know how to (re)create? Tell us in the comments.