A Basic Guide On the 5 French Mother Sauces

Every home cook or aspiring chef knows that getting your basics right is crucial if you want to make delectable dishes. When it comes to cooking sauces, many consider the basic building blocks of most dishes to be the French mother sauces. No matter how complex your pasta sauce is, they’re more or less based on the five mother sauces of French cuisine. We list these five sauces along with their distinct features and how they are traditionally made.

1. Béchamel

Béchamel is actually more common than you think. If you like eating macaroni and cheese, lasagna, or a classic Croque Madame, then you know what Béchamel is. Béchamel is made from a combination of roux (flour and fat cooked together) and any dairy product. It lends its innate rich creaminess to those common home recipes mentioned above. 

The most basic form of Béchamel is roux and cream, but it can be mixed with other ingredients to create more complex sauces. For example, Mornay is made by adding Gruyére or Parmesan cheese.

2. Velouté

Like good old Béchamel, Velouté begins with a white roux but then gets mixed with white stock made from fish, chicken, or veal. Technically, not a finished sauce, Velouté is used as a powerful starting point for a variety of sauces like gravy, mushroom sauce, or shrimp sauce. The resulting sauces take on the flavor of the stock, and the name is derived from the French word for velvet. This aptly describes the distinct smooth but light properties of this delicate sauce.

3. Espagnole

When you say Espagnole, it’s usually a brown sauce made of brown beef or veal stock, tomato puree, and browned mirepoix. A mirepoix is created by combining carrots, celery, and onions. The mirepoix, puree, and stock are all combined and thickened with a very dark brown roux, making it a great addition to any cook’s or providence private chef’s arsenal of sauces.

4. Sauce Tomat

Probably the first mother sauce you ever tasted and is easily the most recognized one. If you enjoy a heaping bowl of mom’s spaghetti, then you already know what Sauce Tomat tastes like. The most basic way of making Sauce Tomat is through a mixture of onions, garlic, and tomatoes. However, unlike more modern-day tomato sauces, the classic French tomato sauce is flavored with pork and aromatic vegetables. Also, some traditionalists may start with a roux and rely on a tomato reduction to build flavor and create thickness.

5. Hollandaise

To make things simpler, Hollandaise is like fancy mayonnaise that uses clarified butter in place of oil. This is the one mother sauce that doesn’t rely on roux for thickening as it uses an emulsion of melted butter and lemon juice forced together by a binding agent like egg yolk. Basically, it’s a stable mixture of two things that usually don’t blend together. This is a very delicate sauce and requires some patience to perfect since the emulsion can easily break if you’re not careful.

If you do things right, you’ll end up with a sauce perfect for dishes like Eggs Benedict or a dipping sauce for asparagus.

Conclusion

These five mother sauces pack a ton of flavor and can be enhanced and optimized any way you want. While some sauces are used more than others nowadays,  just knowing what they are and how to make them is a huge advantage in the kitchen. 

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