Mother Sauces 101: The Secret to French Cuisine

What would our favorite Eggs Benedict be without hollandaise sauce? While they’d still be pretty darn delicious, they wouldn’t be the brunch staple that we’ve come to love and look forward to eating every Sunday. This familiar hollandaise, along with four other classics, is known as one of the five “mother sauces” that form one of the building blocks of French cuisine.

Eggs Benedict
© Wikipedia

First developed by Chef Marie-Antonin Carême and perfected by Chef Auguste Escoffier, the five mother sauces are all made from a combination of fat (such as butter), liquid (such as veal stock), and starch (such as flour). Once the basics are mastered, they can be customized or fortified to create a slew of additional sauces. Here is a run-down of everything you need to know about them.


Arguably the simplest of the five sauces, Béchamel is a combination of butter, milk, flour, and seasonings. To make your own, combine equal parts melted butter and flour and cook 2 to 3 minutes (this mixture is referred to as a roux). Whisk in hot milk and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and homogeneous. Season with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Mornay, a béchamel sauce fortified with Gruyere or Parmesan cheese, is a delicious alternative that’s perfect for baked pasta or vegetable dishes.


Just like a Béchamel, a velouté is made with melted butter and flour, but thickened with white stock (made with fish, chicken, or even veal) instead of milk. While hardly used on its own, there are numerous Velouté variations, such as Normany (with egg yolk, heavy cream, and mushroom), Suprême (with heavy cream), or Allemande (with egg yolk, heavy cream, and lemon juice) sauces. It’s also an excellent base for seafood bisque.


An excellent accompaniment to red meats such as beef, veal, or lamb, an Espagnole sauce is rich and dark. It’s made similarly to béchamel, but with the addition to beef stock, mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion), and, in some cases, tomato purée and herbs. The sauce is often turned into a demi-glace (an Espagnole sauce that’s been reduced until it thickens) and combined with wine, port, or Madeira.


Similar to an Italian tomato sauce, this French version is made by adding mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion), salted pork, garlic, seasonings, and tomato to a roux (melted butter and flour). The sauce is reduced until thick, making it a perfect accompaniment to fish, grilled vegetables, and various meats.


Rich, thick, bright, and satisfying, Hollandaise is a real treat to eat, but a challenge to make. The sauce consists of egg yolks mixed with lemon juice and water and thickened by whisking butter intro the mixture. Hollandaise is commonly fortified with tarragon and shallots to make Béarnaise sauce, which is commonly served with steak.

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