It is said that a good sauce really can tie a meal together. According to Marie-Antoine Carême—famous french pastry chef and internationally acclaimed cook from the 19th century, there are 5 sauces that act as building blocks for creating other sauces and dishes. These classic mother sauces are pillars of french Haute Cuisine heritage and are used all over the world in restaurants, hotels and professional kitchens.
Here’s a quick overview of these five mother sauces with links to the detailed recipes:
In its most basic form, a Béchamel sauce is a rich and creamy combination of a roux (melted butter mixed with flour, cooked in a saucepan) and some cream or milk. Mix it up with other ingredients to create new sauces and flavors. Some cook will add grated nutmeg, cracked black pepper… You can usually find Béchamel sauce in gratins, casseroles, mac and cheese, croque madame or pasta dishes like lasagna. Add an egg yolk and grated cheese to a classic Béchamel to obtain a Mornay Sauce. Get the basic Béchamel sauce recipe, and the Mornay sauce directions here.
Same as the béchamel sauce, the velouté begins with a simple white roux. Mix the roux with different types of stocks to make a velouté sauce. It works with fish stock, chicken stock or veal stock. The veloute sauce is the base for fancier things like shrimp sauces or mushroom sauces. Use it for earthy dishes like chicken pot pie and gravies.
The Espagnole sauce (also known as Brown sauce) starts with a combination of carrots, celery and onion that you stir fry in a sauce pan. Combine with a roux, beef stock, tomato paste, garlic, fresh tomato, a bouquet garni and spices and cook for a least 3 hours before straining. Some purists add lard with carrots and onion. It’s a very heavy and rich sauce that pairs well with grilled meat and mushrooms.
Certainly the most famous! A classic tomato sauce is a combination of onions, garlic and fresh tomatoes, with the addition of various herbs and spices. The principle behind most tomato sauces is the reduction that concentrates flavors. You’ll find tomato sauce in many mediterranean recipes, especially Italian. Get the tomato sauce recipe here.
If you know how to make mayonnaise, then you’ll understand the principle that lies behind the classic Hollandaise sauce a it is still and emulsion. This sauce uses clarified butter (or ghee) instead of oil, which give the sauce a nuttier taste. Mix egg yolks with lemon juice and water in a sauce pan then heat gently over low heat until cooked and creamy. Incorpore butter and seasoning and you get the perfect sauce for poached fish. Add mustard and you get a mustard sauce!