All the sauces that you can make are derived from five “Mother Sauces“. These five sauces were put forth by the famous chef Auguste Escoffier. The Mother Sauces are:
- Bechamel – Milk base
- Hollandaise – Egg base
- Veloute – White stock base
- Espagnole – Brown stock base
- Tomat – Tomato base
From these sauces you can add and enhance to make countless other sauces. You are not limited to making sauces with just these starting points. I have made cream sauces from straight reductions of heavy cream and other ingredients. I have reduced vinegar combined with juices to make different flavored glazes. The wonderful aspect of cooking is that it can be so versatile. Once you master the proper techniques behind the applications, you will be able to do anything. So now let’s learn how to do anything with sauce.
Making the White Mother Sauces
To start, we will learn how to make each of the Mother Sauces. Although all the Mother Sauces are quite simple, I believe that the two white sauces are the most basic. They both consist of their liquid component and a white roux. You may add additional aromatics to the sauces such as onions, celery, or fine herbs. The first step would be to sweat the aromatics in the fat ( butter/ olive oil) followed by adding the flour until you have the roux made with the aromatics. Then add the liquid as per the following instructions. Finish the sauce with the fresh herbs of your choice.
When checking if the sauce has the right thickness, you can do a spoon test. Dip a spoon into the sauce. The sauce should coat the back of the spoon. When you take your finger and wipe down the middle of the spoon, the sauce should stay separated in half where the finger made its line.
White sauces can scorch easily. Make a point to use a diffuser or simmer on a flattop grill. If you a large empty tin can, you can wash and remove the bottom and use that for a diffuser or shop for one on amazon. I’ve used the one in the previous link in multiple professional kitchens and it’s inexpensive.
One last note on the pot you choose. I mentioned before that I like to use a ceramic dutch oven for making soups. This is because the ceramic coating will not react with any acidic ingredients. Aluminum will cause a white sauce to discolor and look slightly gray. Use a heavy bottomed non aluminum pot to avoid this. I actually avoid aluminum cookware altogether.
This is the easiest sauce to make. You will need a white stock from whichever protein you intend to serve. So if you are making a lemon trout, you would use a fish stock. Second, you will need to make a white roux. Combine the liquid and the roux and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce heat to a high simmer. Skim if needed and stir frequently. Once the sauce is the proper thickness, strain through a chinois(fine mesh strainer).
This sauce is made using milk as the liquid. Be very careful, as milk can scorch easily. Make the white roux and add the milk. Bring the sauce up to a simmer and cook until the roux is combined with the milk. At this point you are ready to add any other seasonings or spices.
Good Seasonings/Spices for White Sauces
- White Pepper
- Bay Leaf
Making the Colored Mother Sauces
The notes on making white sauces can also be applied to the different color sauces. Checking for the right thickness and choosing the right pot can be good practice in any sauce. I almost always use the spoon test when making a sauce.
To make the Brown Sauce, you will need a brown stock, typically veal. You will need additional bones, mirepoix, and bouquet garni. This may feel like making another stock, it is close but will take much less time. Last on the list of items is your brown roux and tomato paste.
First you need to brown your bones and mirepoix until they have a nice golden brown color. Add some tomato paste for depth and then cover with your stock. Let this simmer for about 3 hours, adding the herbs in the last hour.
Now strain, bring to a boil, and add the brown roux. Once the roux is thoroughly cooked into the sauce and you have the proper consistency, you will need to strain one last time and done.
Once you master this sauce, all the other sauces you make will have a much richer and more complex flavor. I may say this about other sauces but I really think this is my favorite.
This sauce is a little trickier than the rest as it must be at the right temperature and done properly to achieve the butter emulsification. Don’t get scared, once you do it a few times it becomes more second nature. Also, I will teach you a trick which involves no heat other than what is caused by the friction of the whip.
Remember this ratio of yolk to butter. 1 egg yolk to 2-3oz butter. One yolk is about 1/2 oz. so you can remember that you will need four times the amount of butter to the amount of egg yolks in weight. Another point, the more egg yolks you use, the more you can increase the butter side of the ratio. So if you have 10 yolks, you can use more than 30oz. of butter without compromising the emulsification process. This shows the power of eggs as emulsifiers or thickening agents, but that lesson is for another day.
- 4 egg yolks
- 8-12 oz. melted butter, clarified or whole
- 1-2 oz. of vinegar reduction for flavoring
- simmering water for emulsification process
- lemon juice
- pinch salt
- dash cayenne powder
Classic preparations call for a reduction of white wine, vinegar, shallots and peppercorns. So, first you would reduce this mixture down to about an ounce or two, no more. Strain the reduction into your mixing bowl.
Add the eggs to the reduction and whip until blended. Place the bowl over simmering water but not touching. It helps to have a wider mixing bowl than the pot of water so that you may rest the bowl over the pot. You want to whip the egg yolks until they have tripled in volume. This part had always been hard for me to see when first starting out as a chef. You want to look for the yolks to fall away from the whisk in a long unbreaking ribbon. If it just drips off the whisk, you need to keep going.
Now take the bowl off of the heat and slowly add the warm melted butter to the mixing bowl as you whip vigorously. You want to add the butter in a very slow but constant stream. The hollandaise will begin to thicken with more butter. Give the finished result a quick taste so you have a starting point in your mind for flavoring. Now add a squeeze of lemon, pinch of salt and dash of cayenne. Whisk to combine and taste again. Once you are satisfied with the additional flavors your sauce is complete.
“Hey! Wait! What about the trick without the hot water?” I really suggest being able to do the method described here before moving on to this trick. That way, if the trick doesn’t work, you will know why and how to fix it.
You will need a smaller mixing bowl with steep sides. I personally like the Kitchen Aid hand mixer for this, but any hand mixer will do as long as it has a whisk attachment and not just the beaters. Still make your reduction and strain into the mixing bowl. Add your egg yolks and blend on high speed until the yolks have tripled in volume. Now slowly add the butter in a constant stream and your done. The frictional heat created by the high speed of the hand mixer gives you the heat needed for emulsifying the butter. Now just add your flavoring ingredients and whisk them in by hand.
I’ve gone from the quite simple to the complex preparations of sauces. I thought I would finish on a simple note. If you are trying out the different sauces and then coming back to this lesson, you may be ready for something a little easier and yet satisfying as an end result. Tomato Sauce can be just what you need.
Escoffier’s version calls for a roux but we are going to omit that for that part has been retired in modern cooking. I’m actually going to give an extremely basic version for you to use as a starting point for any personalized effects you would like to add.
You will need a 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 carrot, 4 cloves garlic, olive oil, salt and possibly sugar. The sugar is used to balance the natural acidity of the tomatoes, but if the sauce doesn’t taste too acidic or bitter than the sugar is not needed.
Finely grate the carrot. You want the carrot to be invisible when the sauce is finished. This adds a natural sweetness to the sauce. Dice the onion to about 1/8″ pieces and mince the garlic. Add enough olive oil to the pot to sweat the onions and do just that. Give the onions about a 2-minute head start and then add the garlic and grated carrot. Once the onions begin to brown, add the crushed tomatoes. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until the whole pot is at a low simmer. Let the sauce cook for about 2-2 1/2 hours. Add a generous pinch of salt, stir and taste. Now is when you decide to add sugar or not. You don’t want the sauce to be sweet at all. We’re just looking for a balance between the salty, sweet, acidic, and savory.
This is the most basic tomato sauce. To be honest, I have never gone this simple in my ingredients. This is only a starting point for your own personal preference in flavor. This point is not that far off from my own most basic tomato sauce which I only add a very small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon after sweating the vegetables and fresh basil at the end of simmering the sauce. You can do whatever you like at the beginning ( add bacon or other smoked meats, stock, wine, aromatic vegetables ) or the end ( extra fat, fresh herbs, etc. ).
Applying the Mother Sauces
There is a world of secondary sauces out there to use in your cooking now. I’ve done a few classic sauces over the course of my career and as I developed and gained more experience I began to come up with my own sauces based upon what flavors I wanted to match with what I was serving. Even when chefs are constantly trying to push new flavors and set themselves apart from the rest, the classic sauces always found a way back to my menus from time to time. So, even when I gained the experience to create my own, I still used the classics because they are in fact quite good. The Professional Chef gives a very good list of secondary sauce examples following each of the Mother Sauces.
- Huntsman’s Sauce – Mushrooms, shallots, white wine, brandy and tomatoes
- Diane – Parsley, peppercorns, cream
- Mushroom – Mushrooms and butter
- Robert – Onions, butter, white wine, and mustard
- Normande – Fish stock, mushrooms, mussels, lemon and egg yolks
- Supreme – Mushrooms, cream, and butter
- Mornay – Gruyere, Parmesan, and butter ( I usually add white cheddar )
- Sauce a l’anglaise – eggs, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, nutmeg
- Bearnaise – Red wine vinegar, tarragon
- Maltaise – Blood oranges
I’ve made some different variations on Tomato Sauce. You can study all sorts of Italian Sauces and learn lots of different ways to use a Tomato Sauce. A different way of using tomato sauce that I have had success with, is using a fish stock to pair a tomato sauce with different fish. The sky is the limit with sauces.
New Techniques for Secondary Sauces
I mentioned earlier that you may not need to use a Mother Sauce when making certain sauces. These sauces include and are not limited to:
- Beurre Blanc – white wine, white wine vinegar, shallots, peppercorns and butter
- Coulis and Purees – Blending vegetables with stock or wine into sauces
- Pesto – Using herbs or leaf vegetables, blending with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan
- Balsamic Glaze – reducing balsamic vinegar with any flavored juice i.e. blood orange
I have also made different sauces with only heavy cream as a base. An advantage of using heavy cream over bechamel is that it will reduce easily without scorching. I often make macaroni and cheese this way. I bring heavy cream up to almost a boil and before it expands out of the pan, I add a blend of shredded cheeses, a pinch of salt, granulated garlic, white pepper, and couple scrapes of fresh nutmeg. Once the cheese has melted, I reduce the sauce a little further until I have the desired thickness. Then I add the macaroni and toss in the pan. If the sauce is too light, I merely let it simmer a little longer. At this point, I want the sauce to be moments away from being at the right thickness because I don’t want to overcook the pasta. If the sauce is too thick, I can add a splash of heavy cream and the sauce will be perfect.
You should feel pretty comfortable making various sauces. There may be a lot to take in here, but this is just the basics. You really can make as many sauces as your mind will allow. Once you have the Mother Sauces down, you can add to them just about anything. You can also take the technique of sauce making away from this and come up with your own sauces without using Mother Sauces. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave me a comment below. Until next time, have fun!