by Chef Matt Sullivan of Achieving Culinary Enlightenment
The Mother sauces are the chef’s palate, much like a painter uses theirs, to blend base colors and create a masterpiece. From these five sauces a chef can create an infinitesimal variety of dishes. French chef Marie Antoine-Carême was the first to organize all the French sauces into groups and later chef Auguste Escoffier added one more sauce so that there were now five. Without the Mother sauces, life would just be “meat and potatoes”.
What makes a sauce a sauce?
Before we list the five sauces, we need to know about roux (pronounced Roo). Basically, liquid needs to be thickened so that it coats and clings to food instead of running off of it. Roux is basically cooking fat and flour together before adding in the liquid you want thickened. When the liquid is added to roux and everything comes to a boil, the flour thickens the liquid and you end up with sauce. For those with gluten allergies you can substitute a mixture of cornstarch and water, what chefs call a “slurry”. Four out of the five mother sauces are thickened by roux.
Mother Sauces 101
Roux whisked with milk or cream to make a white sauce.
Roux whisked with chicken, turkey, fish or any other clear stock. The resulting sauce takes on the flavor of the stock, and the name is derived from the French word for velvet.
Made of brown beef or veal stock, tomato puree, and browned mirepoix, all thickened with a very dark brown roux. This is the base for demi-glace.
This is made by cooking tomatoes down into a thick sauce but may also be thickened with roux. The classic French version is flavored with salt pork and aromatic vegetables.
This mother sauce is not thickened by a roux. Rather, it is thickened by an emulsion of egg yolk and melted butter. A mixture of two things that usually can't blend together, this is a very delicate sauce. Because the emulsion can easily break it may take some practice to master this sauce.
Mother Knows Best
At your local grocer, you can find numerous “ready-made” sauces, however, these sauces cannot be stored on a shelf without the use of preservatives. If you enjoy creamy pasta dishes, a hearty tomato sauce or a savory gravy for your meats, then preparing small quantities of Béchamel, Tomat, Velouté and Espagnole will satisfy your tastes as well as provide a chemical free dining experience. Mastering a hollandaise will set you apart from the typical home chef and certainly will “wow” your guests.