A sauce is the crowning glory of any
dish. From the basic "five mother" sauces, there are
literally hundreds of variations of sauces that are used to dress,
compliment, enhance and bring out the flavor of the food it is
So what are the five mother sauces?
There seems to be a slight difference of opinion as to what the
actual five mother sauces are, which in the final analysis are
truly dependent upon which ones are used in today's cooking.
According to the ultimate cooking reference book, The New Food
Lover's Companion, by Sharon Tyler Herbst, the French are credited
with refining the sophisticated art of sauce-making. The development
of various sauces over the years stems from the 19th-century
French chef Antonin Carême who evolved an intricate methodology
by which hundreds of sauces were classified under one of five
"mother sauces." Those basic sauces are the white sauce
Béchamel, the light stock-based Velouté, the brown
stock-based Espagnole; Allemande, based on stock with egg yolk
with a hint of lemon juice (20th century French chef Auguste
Escoffier updated the classification replacing sauce Allemande
with the egg-based emulsions, Hollandaise and Mayonnaise); and
the oil and vinegar-based Vinaigrette. Chef Escoffier also added
Tomato Sauce to his updated classification of the mother sauces,
however, it actually came about later...although it certainly
has earned the title since it is the base for a large variety
of sauces in today's cookery.
The method for preparing the
various types of sauces incorporates some of the same techniques.
For example, a roux is basic to many of the white and brown sauces.
This cooked mixture of flour and fat (usually butter) is an important
contribution to the sauce-making art. In addition, these classic
sauces have been joined by a plethora of modern-day sauces such
as sweet dessert sauces, tomato, pesto and barbecue sauces, as
well as a wide variety of gravies.
Always remember that when a sauce
is used on a food, it is the first thing to touch the tongue.
A sauce is only as good as the ingredients you put into it and
the care you take while preparing it. On the other hand, a good
sauce does little to make inferior food taste better. Always
put a good sauce on good food. Thankfully, we no longer use sauce
to mask "off-tasting food" as was once the practice
in times before modern refrigeration!
Defining the Five Mother Sauces:
Béchamel, the classic white sauce, was named
after its inventor, Louis XIV's steward Louis de Béchamel.
The king of all sauces, it is often referred to as a cream sauce
because of its appearance and is probably used most frequently
in all types of dishes. Made by stirring milk into a butter-flour
roux, the thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of
flour and butter to milk. The proportions for a thin sauce would
be 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour per 1 cup of milk; a
medium sauce would use 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour;
a thick sauce, 3 tablespoons each.
Velouté is a stock-based white sauce. It can
be made from chicken, veal or fish stock. Enrichments such as
egg yolks or cream are sometimes also added.
Espagnole, or brown sauce, is traditionally made
of a rich meat stock, a mirepoix of browned vegetables (most
often a mixture of diced onion, carrots and celery), a nicely
browned roux, herbs and sometimes tomato paste.
Hollandaise and Mayonnaise are two sauces that are made with an
emulsion of egg yolks and fat. Hollandaise is made with butter,
egg yolks and lemon juice, usually in a double boiler to prevent
overheating, and served warm. It is generally used to embellish
vegetables, fish and egg dishes, such as the classic Eggs Benedict.
Mayonnaise is a thick, creamy dressing that's an emulsion of
vegetable oil, egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar and seasonings.
It is widely used as a spread, a dressing and as a sauce. It's
also used as the base for such mixtures as Tartar Sauce, Thousand
Island Dressing, Aïoli, and Remoulade.
Vinaigrette is a sauce made of a simple blend of
oil, vinegar, salt and pepper (usually 3 parts oil to 1 part
vinegar). More elaborate variations can include any combination
of spices, herbs, shallots, onions, mustard, etc. It is generally
used to dress salad greens and other cold vegetable, meat or
Tips for Sauce Success:
- Constantly stir roux-thickened
sauces while cooking to prevent lumps. If you must leave the
sauce for a few seconds, set the pan off the heat during that
- If a roux-thickened sauce develops
a few lumps, beat them out with a rotary beater or wire whisk.
As a last resort, strain sauce with sieve to remove lumps.
- Cook egg-thickened sauces over
low heat, or cook these sauces in the top of a double boiler
over hot, not boiling, water. Always temper (warm) the egg yolks
before adding them to the sauce by first stirring in a little
of the hot sauce mixture into them. Then add to the remainder
of the sauce mixture. Never let a sauce boil after the egg yolks
are added as the sauce may curdle.
- Don't let water boil in the
bottom of the double boiler if you use it to make egg-thickened
sauces. Also, be sure that the water doesn't touch the bottom
of the pan holding the sauce.
Article revised October 2007.
Copyright © 2002 Hope Pryor,