An Introduction to the Five Mother Sauces of French Cuisine

So you want to cook, but don’t know what to do…

Well, my first suggestion is learning how to properly sauce. Sauces are a simple but flavorful way to make dishes. From simple mac and cheese to amazing steaks, you can make anything ‘pop’ with a sauce that will take you just a few minutes and some basic know how.

five mother sauces

This image shows the five Mother Sauces. In the early 20th century, Auguste Escoffier (the greatest chef of the modern age) refined an older four sauce system to generate this contemporary list of five “mother sauces”in his classic Le Guide Culinaire.

These five sauces are the base, or ‘mother’ of every sauce that you can possibly create. Now we’ll discuss them a bit. There is also a list of common ‘small sauces’ (the derivatives) included with each sauce type. I also included my personal favorite instructional videos for each sauce. At the bottom I included a link to a sort of ‘master list’ of small sauce recipes that you can help figure out pretty much any sauce you want! Hope you enjoy.

Veloute (for fish, veal, and chicken dishes)

veloute mother sauce for fish

Velouté sauce (French pronunciation: ​[vəluˈte]), is from the French adjectival form of velour, meaning velvet. In preparing a velouté sauce, a light stock (one in which the bones used have not been previously roasted), such as chicken or fish stock, is thickened with a blond roux. Thus the ingredients of a velouté are equal parts by mass butter and flour to form the roux, a light chicken or fish stock, and salt and pepper for seasoning. The sauce produced is commonly referred to by the type of stock used e.g. chicken velouté. Veloute is the base for small sauces made with mushrooms (Allemande), cream (Sauce Supreme), or the juice of oysters, mushroom and egg (Normandy). Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ol1koNPGfo

Bechamel (Milk Sauce, goes well with pretty much anything in different forms)

bechamel sauce

The classical ‘scald milk’ sauce, Bechamel, along with Tomato, is probably the most familiar of the sauces for most home chefs. Béchamel is traditionally made by melting a quantity of butter, and adding an equal part of flour in order to make a roux, which is cooked under gentle heat while stirring with a whisk. As it is a white sauce, care needs to be taken not to brown the roux. Then heated milk is gradually whisked in, and the sauce is cooked until thickened and smooth. The proportion of roux and milk determines the thickness of the sauce, typically one to three tablespoons each of flour and butter per cup of milk. Bechamel serves as the base for small sauces with white cheeses (Mornay), Cheddar (sauce), or to make a mustard sauce (quite tasty on pork chops or baked chicken). It is also the ‘mother’ to American sausage/bacon gravy, commonly served over eggs or biscuits in the South. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3RnN2itZj8

Espagnole (for meaty, rich dishes)

espagnole sauce

Espagnole is the most true ‘mother’ sauce, as frankly it isn’t a standalone sort. Espagnole has a strong taste and is rarely used directly on food. As a mother sauce, however, it serves as the starting point for many derivatives, such as Sauce Africaine, Sauce Bigarade, Sauce Bourguignonne, Sauce aux Champignons, Sauce charcutière, Sauce Chasseur, Sauce Chevreuil and Demi-glace. If you want to make meaty, tasty Continental food? You wanna learn Espagnole. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfGL0bAVRm0

Tomato (you know what it is for)

lrwuILc

This is probably the most common home-prepared American sauce. Tomato sauce is pretty self-explanatory, and the derivatives are well known. If you want more information, feel free to ask :). Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o5W3cZdPfk

Hollandaise (for eggs, chicken, and light dishes)

hollandaise sauce

One of the harder sauces, Hollandaise is an emulsion of egg yolk and liquid butter, usually seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and a little white pepper or cayenne pepper. In appearance, it is light yellow and opaque, smooth and creamy. The flavor is rich and buttery, with a mild tang added by an acidic component such as lemon juice, yet not so strong as to overpower mildly-flavored foods. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXoqN_NnDc0

So, where do I go from here?

mother sauce infographic french cuisine cooking

While there are thousands of sauces, for the beginning cook I like the work in Stella Kitchen for finding good ways to make sauce. http://stellaculinary.com/blog/five-french-mother-sauces-mother-all-resources is the main article covering all sauces, but the individual sauces have their own pages here with the small sauces as listed.

Share the joy