The Five Basic Sauces

The five mother sauces of classic French cuisine.

Assortment of sauce in copper pots
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Knowing the five basic “mother sauces” is as helpful to the food lover as it is to the chef. Understanding these sauces will help you read menus, decide what to order, and determine what wines might pair best with your meal. For cooks and chefs alike, learning to make the five mother sauces is a basic skill that will open up a world of culinary possibilities.

The five mother sauces (béchamel, espagnole, hollandaise, tomato, and veloute) differ based on their main ingredient and thickening agent. Although the five mother sauces are usually not consumed in their original state, they can be made into many secondary sauces by adding herbs, spices, or other ingredients. Below is a description of each mother sauce with examples of their common secondary sauces.

Bechamel – Bechamel sauce, also known as white sauce, uses milk as a base and is thickened with a white roux. Bechamel sauces are commonly flavored with onion, shallots, pepper, or nutmeg. Secondary sauces that are made with béchamel include cheese sauces, cream sauces, or Mornay sauce. Bechamel based sauces are often served with pasta, vegetables, eggs, or poultry.

Espagnole – Espagnole, often referred to as brown sauce, uses a brown stock, such as beef, as a base and is thickened with a brown roux. Espagnole is often flavored with aromatics, savory herbs, or tomato paste. Espagnole is commonly made into secondary sauces such as mushroom sauce, Demi-Glace, Sauce Madeira, or Bordelaise. Espagnole sauces are commonly served with roasted meats, such as beef, veal, lamb, or duck.

Hollandaise – Hollandaise sauce is a rich creamy sauce that uses butter as a base and is thickened through the science of emulsions. Hollandaise sauces are often flavored with peppercorns, cayenne, lemon, or vinegar and can be made into secondary sauces such as Maltaise, Mousseline, or Bearnaise. Hollandaise sauces are often served with eggs, vegetables, or poultry.

Red Sauce – Red sauces have a tomato base and are thickened with purees, by reduction, or a roux. Red sauces can be flavored with mirepoix, meat stock, or salted pork. Secondary sauces commonly made from red sauce include Puttanesca, Creole, or Spanish. Red sauces can be served with nearly everything, including pasta, vegetables, fish, beef, veal, poultry, or polenta.

VelouteVeloute sauces use chicken, fish, or another white stock as a base and are thickened either with a roux or a liaison (egg yolk and cream). Examples of secondary sauces made with a veloute include mushroom sauces, curries, herb sauces, or white wine sauce. Veloute sauces are often served with lighter dishes such as vegetables, fish, pasta, or poultry.