The 5 French Mother Sauces, Described

The 5 French Mother Sauces
Classic French cuisine has had an extraordinary influence in the culinary world.
Even if you don’t fancy yourself a chef, you’ve likely introduced elements of classic French cooking into your home kitchen on more than one occasion.
French cuisine is famous for its liberal use of delicious sauces. After all, a well-prepared sauce adds moisture, richness, complexity and color to almost any dish.
There are countless types of French sauces, most of which are derived from one of the five main sauces.
Created by chef Auguste Escoffier in the 19th century, mother sauces are basic concoctions that serve as the basis for any number of secondary sauces. Each mother sauce is graded according to its unique base and thickener.
1. Béchamel
Béchamel, or white sauce, is a simple milk-based sauce made from butter, flour, and whole milk.
A 2-ounce (60-mL) serving provides approximately:
Calories: 130
Fat: 7 grams
Carbs: 13 grams
Protein: 3 grams
To make béchamel, start by cooking butter and flour in a saucepan until it forms a thick, paste-like substance called a roux. The roux is responsible for thickening the sauce.
There are many styles of roux, but the one used for béchamel is called white roux. It’s only cooked for about 2–3 minutes — long enough to remove the starchy texture of the flour but not so long that the butter begins to brown.
When the roux is ready, slowly whisk in warm milk and simmer it until it forms a smooth, creamy sauce.
With the addition of a few extra seasonings like salt, pepper, and cloves, béchamel is complete — though it may be used as a base for many other sauces.
Popular sauces made from béchamel include:
Mornay: béchamel with onion, cloves, Gruyère cheese, and Parmesan
Cream sauce: béchamel with heavy cream
Soubise: béchamel with butter and caramelized onions
Nantua: béchamel with shrimp, butter, and heavy cream
Cheddar sauce: béchamel with whole milk and cheddar cheese
Béchamel and its derivative sauces can be used in countless dishes, including casseroles, creamy soups, and pastas.

2. Velouté
A velouté is a simple sauce made from butter, flour, and stock.
Stock is a savory, flavorful cooking liquid created by simmering bones, herbs, and aromatic vegetables for several hours.
Velouté is similar to béchamel because it’s a white sauce thickened with roux, but it features stock for the base instead of milk. Chicken stock is the most common choice, but you can also use other white stocks, such as those made from veal or fish.
3. Espagnole (brown sauce)
Espagnole, otherwise known as brown sauce, is a rich, dark sauce made from roux-thickened stock, puréed tomatoes, and mirepoix — a mix of sautéed carrots, onions, and celery that’s used as a base.
Like velouté, espagnole uses roux and stock as the main ingredients. However, instead of white roux and stock, it calls for brown stock and brown roux.
Brown stock is made from beef or veal bones that have been roasted and simmered, while brown roux is flour and butter that’s cooked just long enough to brown the butter. These ingredients give espagnole an especially rich, complex flavor.
A 2-ounce (60-mL) serving of espagnole offers:
Calories: 50
Fat: 3 grams
Carbs: 4 grams
Protein: 1 gram
4. Hollandaise
Hollandaise is a tangy, creamy sauce made from butter, lemon juice, and raw egg yolks.
It’s probably best known for its role in the classic breakfast dish Eggs Benedict.
Hollandaise stands out from the other French mother sauces because it relies on the emulsification — or mixing — of egg yolks and butter in place of roux.

It has a reputation for being somewhat challenging to prepare because of the tendency for butter and egg yolks to resist combining — much like water and oil.
The key to making a proper hollandaise is slightly warm egg yolks, room temperature butter, and steady, constant whisking. It’s essential to add the butter to the yolks slowly and incrementally so that the ingredients remain stable and don’t separate.
5. Tomato
Tomato sauce is arguably the most popular of the French mother sauces.
Classical French tomato sauce is thickened with roux and seasoned with pork, herbs, and aromatic vegetables. However, most modern tomato sauces primarily consist of puréed tomatoes seasoned with herbs and reduced into a rich, flavorful sauce.
A 2-ounce (60-mL) serving of tomato sauce contains:
Calories: 15
Fat: 0 grams
Carbs: 3 grams
Protein: 1 gram
Its derivative sauces include:
Creole: tomato sauce with white wine, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, and red bell peppers
Algerian: tomato sauce with green and red bell peppers
Portugaise: tomato sauce with garlic, onions, sugar, salt, parsley, and peeled tomatoes
Provençal: tomato sauce with olive oil, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, and sugar
Marinara: tomato sauce with garlic, onions, and herbs