Food

The French mother sauces explained.

It seems today’s gastronomy is all about a modern, almost scientific approach. The best restaurants in the world are bold and propositive; there’s little space for shyness in contemporary food culture. 

You see, most of today’s celebrity chefs had a proper, old fashioned culinary training, and ask them about classic techniques and recipes, chances are they know them by heart.

Traditional French cuisine might not bring all the hype it used to a few centuries or even decades ago, but the base of cooking still revolves around a few key points. 

Mother sauces are not only current but have evolved with the times. Every sauce, even in a geeky molecular form, is based or inspired by a French mother sauce. 

Whether you’re new into cooking, or you’re a seasoned pro, it’s always a good idea to go back to the basics. This is all you need to know about the five mother sauces, how they’re made, and how they form the base of every sauce imaginable. 

Béchamel

To understand the Bechamel sauce, you first have to understand roux. Roux is a thickening agent that makes sauces creamy and not watery. Its basic form is melted butter and flour. Slowly adding milk to a roux, you’ll get a lovely white sauce. 

Often bland on its own so it’s often seasoned with cloves, nutmeg and onions. With the addition of cheese, it becomes Mornay sauce, think of Mac & Cheese.

Velouté

Add white stock, either fish or chicken to a white roux and let simmer until thick. This is the silky velouté. Adding cream and/or wine makes some of the most exquisite sauces around, like the supreme sauce (creamy chicken velouté), the allemande (with egg yolks) or the pink Aurora sauce (with tomato puree). 

Espagnole

This is the classic brown sauce, and it’s made with brown stock and roux. The secret is in the tomato purée and the assortment of finely chopped, sautéed vegetables (mirepoix). Letting the sauce thicken to add more brown stock later makes it become into the popular demi-glace.

Add some mushrooms and pour over a medium prime steak. This unctuous sauce is a classic for a reason.

Sauce Tomat

This is an overly complicated tomato sauce. It might not sound like much, but tomato sauce is the most used sauce today, at least in some of its forms. You don’t need roux to thicken this red sauce, but you’ll need a handful of sautéed, aromatic vegetables and a bit of stock to really make it shine. 

With the addition of peppers and cayenne, you’ll have your own traditional Creole sauce to bring out the best of southern food. 

Hollandaise

This one is tricky. To emulsify warm egg yolks and clarified butter takes practice and a skillful wrist, but the result is a silky and rich sauce perfect on eggs Benedict or fish. 

With shallots, peppercorns and tarragon, the sauce becomes a Bearnaise sauce and is the perfect addition for a tender salmon filet.

There they are. The five classic French mother sauces explained. Relatively easy to make but tough to master, modern cooking, from home kitchens to high-end restaurants can thank these sauces for the myriad of flavors we find today.

Hey, why don’t you give them a try? Perhaps you can create your own variation; you better start thinking of a name. 

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