Cooking is a wonderful way for people to take their mind off of everyday stresses. You can express yourself in the kitchen and alter your favorite recipes to create something new! But, there are lots of things to learn about cooking and it takes patience and skill to get things exactly right in the kitchen.
Today, we’re going to be looking at some of the basics as we go through the five French mother sauces, their uses, and the best ways to make them. They may sound intimidating but they’re actually quite easy and soon you’ll be a pro with French sauces!
In French cuisine, there are five mother sauces to be aware of: bechamel, hollandaise, Espagnole, sauce tomat, and veloute. These French sauces are used as the foundation for a lot of other things. They can be used to make additional, “smaller” sauces, placed into soup, or drizzled onto our favorite dishes. Mother sauces are used as bases for additional items like gravy or béarnaise sauce. They’re crucial building blocks for the kitchen.
Four of the five French sauces start off with a roux, but what the heck is that? A roux is simply a mixture of flour and fat that helps to thicken the sauce. The reason why roux is so important is that you don’t want your sauce to be watery or to slip off of any foods you drizzle it onto. So, when you add a roux into the sauce, it helps to keep it thick and creamy and makes for an all-around better experience. The only sauce that doesn’t use this is Hollandaise.
A roux can be made from flour and butter, olive oil, or even fat drippings from meat. Different sauces call for different types of roux, but roux in it of itself is made with equal parts flour and fat. All you’d need to do is heat the flour and fat source and stir it until it’s thick. You do this separately from your sauces and add the two in together later on.
There are four different kinds of roux: white, blond, brown, and dark brown. The only thing that changes their color is how long they’re cooked. As you can imagine, the lighter the color, the shorter amount of time it’s spent on the stove. Different types of roux also come with different benefits. For example, white roux is cooked for the shortest amount of time, but it serves as a better thickening agent. On the other hand, dark brown roux is cooked the longest and while it’s not the thickest, it’s the most flavorful.
This creamy sauce is one you’ve more than likely tried before. It’s a staple in kitchen favorites like lasagna, chicken pot pie, and macaroni and cheese.
Of all the French sauces, this one is one of the easiest ones to make. Generally speaking, all bechamel is a base sauce made from a white roux and milk. Bechamel is never really used as a finishing sauce because it’s bland on its own; all you need to make a basic bechamel sauce is some flour, butter, milk, nutmeg, and salt to taste. So, as you can imagine, it doesn’t do much to a dish on its own! Though, you can add a variety of ingredients to it as well like bay leaves, onion, or sprigs of thyme.
It’s often mixed with additional ingredients to serve as a base sauce or to add to certain dishes. It’s typically served with foods like eggs, poultry, and fish. There are also lots of recipes out there that encourage you to use bechamel sauce as an inclusion to homemade lasagna or in a chicken pot pie.
You can freeze this sauce if you’d like as well! Bechamel can be frozen for up to three months and kept in the fridge for a few days. All you need to do to reheat is put it in a saucepan and keep stirring it over low-medium heat. You might need to add some milk if the sauce is too thick upon reheating.
We’ve covered how to make bechamel sauce before so be sure to check it out!
This sauce is a splendid base for sauces like gravy, mushroom sauces, or allemande sauce. It’s often served over meats like fish and poultry.
Veloute shares a few similarities to bechamel. These French sauces both start out with a blonde roux, but veloute is then mixed with stock from various meats. The stock is usually from fish, veal, or poultry. All you really need for this one, much like bechamel, is butter, flour, chicken stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Unlike some of the other French sauces, this one doesn’t come with any added flavorings because it’s used specifically as a base more often than not.
This base mother sauce usually helps to make secondary sauces like allemande sauce, sauce supreme, and white wine sauce. Depending on the kind of secondary sauce you make from this one, veloute is usually served with fish, chicken, or lighter sides like vegetables or pasta. When veloute is served alongside meats like chicken or fish, they’re usually cooked in a gentler way (such as steaming).
You can freeze this sauce for up to a month or you can stick it in the fridge for up to a week. If you freeze it, the sauce will most likely thicken, but it will return to its original consistency when you reheat it on low-medium heat.
We covered how to make your very own veloute sauce, so if this sounds like it’s something you want to try then head on over to check out the recipe!
Espagnole sauce is the base for secondary sauces like bordelaise or demi-glace. It is, however, rarely served directly over food and is often the base for other sauces.
Espagnole is often referred to as “brown sauce” and it’s a little harder to make. Unlike the first two French sauces we mentioned, this mother sauce uses a dark roux, which is made from the same things but you’re going to keep stirring it until the mixture turns a rich brown in color. Espagnole is also made with a little something called mirepoix, which is a combination of onions, carrots, and celery that are then sauteed in butter. You’ll also be adding in beef bits from bones and beef stock. Other ingredients like parsley, thyme, and bay leaves may be added.
This sauce is usually served with fancier dishes like filet mignon or other meats like lamb or veal once it’s converted into another sauce. As we said before, with all the flavors happening in this sauce on its own, it’s rarely used directly on food by itself.
Espagnole can be stored in the fridge for up to five days or kept in the freezer for a total of three months.
Of the other French sauces, this one is a more complicated and time-consuming one, but we’ve written a recipe to help you in the kitchen!
One of the more popular French sauces, hollandaise is used as a finishing sauce for several dishes including eggs benedict or it can be served over vegetables like asparagus or broccoli. It’s also the only one out of the French sauces that isn’t thickened with roux.
Hollandaise doesn’t need to be thickened with roux. Instead, it’s thickened with egg yolks. Adding eggs in there makes the sauce more susceptible to breaking up when you’re mixing it, which is why this sauce needs a little finesse. When making hollandaise you need to make sure that the butter doesn’t curdle and it takes a little getting used to. But, the ingredients for a basic recipe are easy! What you’d need to do is gather eggs, butter, and lemon juice for the main ingredients and have some salt and cayenne pepper handy to taste. Some recipes out there suggest that you use white wine vinegar or peppercorns, but these aren’t necessarily a crucial ingredient when you’re making a basic hollandaise.
It’s also one of the only French sauces that can be used on its own for dishes. You can drizzle this over dishes like eggs benedict and it’s commonly served as a sauce for vegetables like asparagus and broccoli. It can also be served with lighter meat dishes like poultry or fish.
Hollandaise sauce can be safely kept in the fridge for only about a day or two. Unlike the other French sauces, this one doesn’t freeze well. Some may say that it does, but realistically, this egg-based sauce is going to be a mess once you try to reheat it. It’s better to make a fresh batch.
We’ve covered how to make this tricky sauce with confidence so be sure to head over there for some tips on how to keep the sauce together!
Perhaps the most popular of the French sauces, sauce tomat is often used as a finishing sauce for just about everything including pasta, chicken, veal, beef, or pizza.
People are on the fence about whether sauce tomat is thickened with roux or if you grind the tomatoes down until it creates a nice, thick sauce. Different recipes will tell you different things, so it really depends on what you think works best for you. Either works fine! As for the rest of the sauce, you’ll need quite a few ingredients like tomatoes, salt pork, mirepoix, and an assortment of herbs and spices like thyme, parsley, garlic, and pepper. Of course, you’ll also need some vegetables in there like onions, celery, and carrots.
Probably the most versatile of all the French sauces, this one can be used to make a slew of additional sauces like Puttanesca, Spanish sauce tomat, and Creole. It can also be used on a variety of dishes like poultry, beef, veal, pasta, vegetables, or pizza.
This sauce is great because it can be kept in the fridge for up to two to three days and can be frozen for three to four months.
We’ve talked about how to make this yummy sauce for yourself, so be sure to head over there if you’re interested in making some for yourself!
There you have it! Some of these sauces may seem a little daunting, but with practice and our tips and tricks, you’ll be a professional in no time.