Referred to simply as the five Mother Sauces, their basic repertoire comprises the better cuisines and can easily be expanded upon to create dozens of sumptuous toppings and foundations for your food (if you know what you’re doing).
In the nineteenth century, a young pâtisserie chef and later a renown French chef Marie Antoine-Carême was the first to organize the French sauces into groups that were based on four foundational basics. Later, French chef Auguste Escoffier added
one more sauce so that there were now five, which he systemized in recipe form in his classic 1903 Le Guide Culinaire.They’re called mother sauces because each one is like the head of its own little special family (is that cute or what?):
+ Béchamel – This is a basic roux whisked with milk, butter and flour to make a white sauce, including Mornay and Cheese sauces;
+ Velouté – A velouté is a light roux whisked with chicken, turkey, fish or any other clear stock;
+ Espagnole – your basic brown sauce made with tomato purée and mirepoix (usually a combination of onions, celery and bell peppers) for deeper color and flavor, including Mushroom Sauce, Madeira Sauce and Port Wine Sauce;
+ Sauce Tomato – classic tomato sauce, the staple in Italian restaurants,plus expanded to include Creole and Provencale sauces;
+ Hollandaise – a rich egg yolk sauce known for topping Eggs Benedict and asparagus (Bernaise sauce is part of this “family”);
These sauces are considered the foundations for many dishes and required learning by culinary students whether they specialize or not. You can be sure any Michelin rated restaurant has a saucier on staff, painstakingly whipping up all five sauces each day like a creative scientist, ready for whatever needs that special addition or smooth creamy topping. Besides his sauces, he (or she) will be simmering stocks from scratch, preparing gravies and soups.
So let’s envision this for a minute. f you are lucky enough to dine in a top-rated restaurant, the sauce which envelopes your filet mignon will have been prepared by a bona fide sauce chef from scratch and will taste like it. If you are dining at the Olive Garden, you will be slurping down their standard tomato sauce (not that there’s anything wrong with it) or a (probably) pre-packaged alfredo sauce. It will taste okay but nothing like it was prepared at a Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay or Wolfgang Puck Michelin-rated establishment. You’ll also find sauciers in the kitchens of finer hotels like the Ritz Carlson and the Sofitel. By the same token, don’t expect some line cook at Denny’s to be stirring a pot of homemade Bordelaise red wine sauce for your steak and eggs. The waitress will slap down a bottle of ketchup on your table and ask if there will be anything else (okay, maybe some A-1 for those more discriminating palates).
When all is said and done, in your own kitchen save yourself some big time aggravation and just go to the supermarket, buy a couple of envelopes of Hollandaise sauce, mushroom sauce, brown gravy mix and a jar of tomato sauce and call it a day. You’ll sleep better for sure. And we won’t tell if you don’t.
Author Dale Phillip appreciates a great sauce but reaches for the packaged mixes in her own kitchen, leaving the better concoctions to those highly trained sauce chefs in finer restaurants. Growing up in the Midwest, her mother made great gravies from scratch but they were pretty basic. Back then, unless you were dining in a high end restaurant, nobody gave it much thought as long as it tasted good and looked presentable. She invites you to view her many articles in the Food and Drink categories.