What is a sauce? Sauces are derived from classical French cooking and are simply defined as a thickened liquid to compliment a dish. There may be solid food components in with a sauce such as chutney. In regards to classical French cuisine there are five Mother sauces of Classical French cuisine. In the early part of the 19th century chef Antoine Careme classified four sauces. This remained until early 20th century when Chef Augusta Escoffier updated the list to the recognized the five Mother sauces of today. In modern cuisine the Mother sauces are rarely featured by themselves and are instead, augmented with different flavorings to produce what are called “small sauces”. The classical Mother sauces and small sauces are known by their liquid ingredient contents.
Five Mother sauces of classical French cuisine are:
Béchamel is a sauce which has a milk base and is thickened with a blonde roux. Commonly referred to as a “white” sauce the Béchamel is probably one of the most used of the base sauces.
A veloute is a white stock (veal, chicken or seafood) and thickened with a white roux . A veloute is commonly referred to by the type of stock that is used such as a “chicken veloute”.
A Tomate is a tomato based sauce thickened with or without a roux. The liquid in a tomato sauce comes from the tomato itself. Water or stock is added as the sauce cooks as this sauce sometimes cooks for longer times to bring out the flavors of the ingredients better.
An Espagnole is a brown sauce classically using veal stock as a base and thickened with a dark roux. The base of an espagnole sauce is made from a stock of roasted veal bones and a roux that has been cooked longer giving this sauce a very strong taste. Espagnole is rarely used by itself because of its strength in taste.
A Hollandaise is based with egg yolks and butter and made by using a technique called emulsion. Mixing egg yolks with butter and flavoring with lemon or vinegar is brought together through whisking the mixture vigorously until the liquids that normally would not mix come together in a thickened pudding like mixture.
In addition, I have also seen vinaigrette listed as a classical sauce although it is an emulsion and can be classified as a small sauce of the Hollandaise group. A vinaigrette’s use as a salad “dressing” can also be a cause of it not being in the five Mother sauces.
The five Mother sauces of classical French cuisine tend to require a bit of skill in preparation and some chefs make a living out of being specialists in sauces alone (a Saucier). If a stock is used as the base of a sauce then it will be prepared classically skimmed free of fats. Learn how to make the five Mother sauces of French cooking and you will never run out of ideas to add to your favorite dish.