Our Guide To Escoffier’s 5 Mother Sauces

The five mother sauces of cooking are some of the most important contributions to modern cuisine from Auguste Escoffier. Even though he didn’t really know it when he published them, they have since become the basis for all sauces after. That’s why it’s even more important for any chef or cooking aficionado to not only know what they are but how they’re made.

From cream sauces to broth-based ones, Escoffier gave the culinary world something to work off of for hundreds of unique sauce recipes. Whether it’s a demi-glace, a bernaise or even a cheddar cheese sauce, they all started from these very important 5 French ladies. Plus, they’re all uniquely delicious and incredibly versatile in their own way.

You can pretty much figure out a way to incorporate one of them into every meal or find a way to relate them to pretty much every other sauce we use in our current culinary adventures. Like did you know that even alfredo, an Italian sauce, has a French base?  Per most classic French cuisine recipes that were fit for kings (and high metabolisms), these sauces contain godly amounts of butter, cream, eggs and all the other good, rich fats out there.

Some say the mother sauces are “outdated” but those who toot that horn might not really understand that the sauces, gravies or dressings we know today probably wouldn’t exist or come close to being as awesome.  It was, after all, esteemed chef and irresistible TV personality Julia Child who said, “Sauces are the splendor and the glory of French cooking.” We can’t agree more.

In this post, we explore the five sauces that started it all and tell you all their little interesting facts and quirks. Considering their incredibly different origins and ingredients, you’ll learn why these beauties are as important as they are said to be.

Hollandaise Sauce:

This is probably the most famous of the mother sauces as it’s known by its often continuously served by its own name in the restaurant industry. What mostly pushed this sauce into the open ears and clogged arteries of everyone was the ever-popular breakfast dish, eggs benedict, which if you didn’t know, is actually an American-made favorite.

The egg, butter and lemon based sauce has also been adopted by many different vegetable dishes including some steamed or grilled asparagus, artichokes and broccoli. You can slather it all over or leave it as a side to dip in to. Lucky for us, there have also been many different variations of the sauce including the popular Bernaise. These are referred to as the sister sauces and others include Sause Mousseline, Sauce Noisette, Sauce Dijon and Sauce Maltaise.

The main reason why we probably don’t make hollandaise every day is because it can be a quite trick and temperature control plays a huge part in it. Once you’ve learned how to make hollandaise sauce, though, no recipe can stop you. Either way, yum is all we have to say!

Bechamel Sauce:

You may want to put on pants with a little give when enjoying this guy. Just a heads up. Known as the white sauce of all five, béchamel is a flavor overload with this flour, butter and milk based sauce. The flavoring is up to you although the French like to do a little salt and pepper while the Italians like to throw on a pinch of nutmeg.

Another traditional flavoring option is to steep the milk with a whole onion that’s been studded a couple cloves and a bay leaf before combined with the roux. In all actuality, the béchamel sauce is the base for almost all butter and cream based sauces.

Even if you’re making mac n’ cheese, you start the recipe with this. And although Escoffier may not have invented this recipe, he is accepted now as the authoritative. That much can be expected of the man who completely changed the way people looked at food.

Veloute Sauce:

This blonde beauty is one of the most popular and famous chicken or fish accompaniments. The reason it’s referred to as blonde is because the stock contains unroasted bones, which usually darken when you bake them. Don’t let that trick you into thinking its lacking flavor. Although it may be lighter than its sisters, it’s still packing plenty.

It’s also good to note that you can make a veloute sauce out of anything: beef, veal, fish or chicken. It doesn’t have to be one of the lighter stocks. The bones just always have to be unroasted to get the full-effect of flavor.

This mother sauce is completely up to improvisation, adding cream, wine, flavorful juices and so on.

A good brown sauce helps bring out the flavor in meat.

A good brown sauce helps bring out the flavor in meat.

Tomato Sauce:

We all pretty much know this sauce by another name: pasta sauce. But the basics are all there. This is a tomato based sauce, flavored with everything from oregano and basil to onion, garlic, cayenne and coriander. It’s served with rice, pasta, fish, chicken, pork, beef, potatoes, vegetables and so on and so forth.

If you’re Auguste Escoffier and it’s “sauce tomate,” it’s made with salted belly of pork, onions, bay leaves, thyme, pureed or fresh tomatoes,  roux, garlic, salt, sugar and pepper. If you don’t want to get that fancy, you can leave out the pork belly and roux to make a standard tomato sauce.

Of all Escoffier’s sauces, this one is the one that is slightly out of date for its time. All that matters is that it’s still delicious, which it most certainly is.

Espagnole Sauce or Spanish Sauce:

Despite the name, this sauce has just about nothing to do with Spanish cuisine. The tale has it that at the wedding of Louis XIII’s bride, Anne, the Spanish cooks insisted on putting Spanish tomatoes into the basic brown sauce to give it more well-rounded flavor. The sauce was a hit and was named after their country.

What sets Espagnole sauce apart is that it has very strong flavors and usually needs to be diluted down with another sauce or broth. It is rarely served on its own. The reason for its rich and distinct flavor is that veal bones are used as opposed to beef. The veal bones help make the sauce thicker and more flavorful, setting it apart for other similar brown or beef-based ones.

We’re certainly not complaining. Without espagnole sauce we couldn’t have demi-glace and we’re not even sure how to go on after that. Other variations include sauce bourguignonne, mushroom sauce and the creole-esque sauce Africaine.

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