The Mother Sauces

George Steckel|Sep 09, 2020
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Photo: The Spruce

Imagine spaghetti and meatballs without tomato sauce. Or picture eggs benedict without a hollandaise sauce. What you’re envisioning seems pretty bland and sad, right? Enter, sauce.

Sauce is the added boost of flavors and texture you need to complete some of our favorite meals, and it allows you to parlay simple food options into a week’s worth of variety.

For many cooks, there are five basic sauce recipes that serve as the foundations for all sauces (although some people argue that chocolate should be added to the list too). These five sauces are endearingly called the

mother sauces

. Memorize the following list for instant street cred in kitchens everywhere.

Béchamel

Named after Louis, Marquis de Béchamel, this white, creamy sauce is understated and subtle, and pairs perfectly with cheese. In its most basic form, Béchamel sauce is made by combining a thickener like flour with a cream. Béchamel is always easier to thin than it is to thicken, so we recommend making your sauce slightly thicker than necessary with extra flour and thinning it as needed.

Many cooks mix their Béchamel with other ingredients like onions, salt, pepper and garlic to compliment a variety of meats, vegetables, and pasta being served. Béchamel pairs well with parmesan and Gruyère in cheesy dishes. You can even use Béchamel in soups and chowders, over gratins and drizzled on polenta cakes.

Espagnole

Known as the brown sauce, Espagnole is typically made with beef stock, flour, bits of celery, carrots and onions. Espagnole also gets flavor from tomato paste and other spices. To make espagnole, melt flour and butter in your saucier pan and to create a white roux with the consistency of a thick paste. Incorporate beef broth and tomato paste into the mixture. Whisk quickly over low heat, adding the ingredients a little at a time to keep the sauce from becoming lumpy.

Espagnole makes a rich sauce that can be combined with red wine and a variety of herbs. Espagnole can be drizzled over roasts, risottos and even over mashed potatoes for elevated comfort food.

Hollandaise

Hollandaise sauce was originally called Sauce Isigny, but was renamed during World War II when cooks started importing butter for the sauce from Holland (more on that here). Hollandaise sauce is created with egg yolks, clarified butter and lemon juice. As a side, the butter for this sauce

must

be clarified or the sauce won't hold together as well.

Making hollandaise sauce can be difficult for beginners because the mixture must be tempered, which means hot liquid and eggs must be combined without the eggs becoming scrambled. The trick is to stir the sauce constantly throughout the process. If the sauce begins to break, add heavy cream and whisk until it is back in a desirable state. Hollandaise sauce can be used on a variety of foods. You'll find Hollandaise sauce used over eggs (benedict, anyone?), in potato salad and drizzled on asparagus.

Photo: Chowhound

Velouté

The name Velouté is derived from the French word "velour," meaning, velvet. This sauce is a mixture of flour and a light stock made from fish, veal, chicken or vegetable broth. When made with vegetable broth, this sauce is the vegan version of Béchamel, and can be used in many of the same dishes. Like Béchamel, Velouté is spiced with other ingredients that give it flavor. Mixed with mushroom sauce, shrimp sauce or meat juices and spices, Velouté is the starting point for many gravies.

Nearly everyone has made a Velouté at some point or another. When mixing a Velouté, remember to stir the ingredients over low heat to prevent the flour from burning. The sauce should simmer on a very low heat for about half an hour before it is served, to reduce the liquid and make the sauce thicker. When finished, Velouté should be just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Seasoning for Velouté can come from any basic ingredients including salt, pepper, garlic and sage. Mixed with salt and pepper, Velouté also makes an excellent gravy that can be spread over breakfast biscuits or sausage.

Tomato

Usually made with onions, tomatoes and garlic, many people make tomato sauce by evaporating the moisture from the sauce over a low heat (a process known as reduction). Tomato sauce can also be mixed with flour for thickening. The basic seasoning for most tomato sauces is garlic and finely diced onions. If the sauce reduces too much, you can always add more tomatoes or a little broth to re-hydrate.

Unlike some of the other mother sauces (like Hollandaise) tomato sauce isn't very delicate. You can add nearly anything to this sauce without worry of it breaking.

Once the sauce base is finished, tomato sauce can be combined with salt, oregano, basil and a variety of other herbs to make the food more flavorful. Tomato sauce is used over pasta and in pizza, and can be added to tomato-based soups.

Photo: Heather Schwartz, Unsplash

Final tips on SAUCE

Most sauces must be whisked quickly while the heat is kept on low, so the best pan for this is our

3 QT Saucier

. If you ever run in trouble making a sauce, add a little liquid and keep mixing until you find the right combination of thickener, liquid and spices. Don't forget to test your sauce regularly to ensure the flavor is right. And finally, get creative. These sauces are the beginning to a world of sauce options (think chocolate,

mole

, alfredo)...but don’t forget the mother(s) that raised you.