The five mother sauces

In French cuisine, there are five basic or “mother” sauces from which whole families of sauces are derived. Three of these sauces are thickened with flour, one with fats, and the last is a tomato-based sauce. All these sauces need to be cooked for long enough for the flour to lose its starchy taste and texture and to absorb the maximum amount of liquid.

The term, “mother sauces” is because there are sauce “families” consisting of numerous “child” sauces that are variations of a basic sauce. The variations can be made by the same method as the mother sauce but using different flavouring ingredients, or they can also include variations of the method.

The five mother sauces are:

Béchamel sauce

This is the classic flour-thickened white sauce. Its basic ingredients are butter, flour and milk, seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg. It is most often served with vegetable-based dishes including pasta. It’s most common derived sauces include: Aurora sauce, Chantilly sauce, cream sauce, horseradish sauce, Mornay sauce, Nantua sauce and Soubise sauce.

Velouté sauce

This sauce is very similar in method to the Béchamel sauce, but the liquid used is stock rather than milk. The stock can be veal, chicken or fish. This makes it suitable to serve with meat proteins such as chicken. Velouté sauce has lots of children and they are grouped according to the type of stock that was used to make the mother sauce.

From a Velouté sauce made with chicken stock, we derive Albufera sauce, mushroom sauce, Supreme sauce, tarragon sauce and Toulouse sauce. A Velouté made with veal stock produces Allemande sauce and curry sauce. A fish Velouté can be made into a Normandy sauce or a white wine sauce.

Espagnole sauce

Also known simply as brown sauce, this is the classic sauce that is almost never served in its basic form. It is the essential foundation of all those beautiful dishes au jus that are so popular at present. This is another flour-thickened sauce but the flour and butter are cooked until they smell nutty and look golden to dark brown, and then brown stock is added.

More “child” sauces come from this sauce than any other type. They include: Bigarade sauce (made with bitter oranges), Bordelaise sauce, Colbert sauce, Devil sauce, Diane sauce, Duxelles sauce, Hunter sauce, Italian sauce, Madeira sauce, marrow sauce, onion sauce, Perigueux sauce (made with black truffles), Piquant sauce, port wine sauce, Robert sauce, Roebuck sauce, Tortue sauce, Wine Merchant’s sauce and Zingara sauce.

Click through to learn more about the other three of the five mother sauces, and our top tips for making a sauce.

Hollandaise sauce

This is just one of a group of emulsion sauces in which egg yolks and fat are combined to make a very thick sauce. Hollandaise and Béarnaise sauces are made with egg yolks and butter that have been warmed and are therefore a hot emulsion.

There are several other emulsion sauces which are not members of the “five mother sauces”. They include mayonnaise sauce which is made with cold ingredients in the same manner as Hollandaise, but is a cool emulsion.

A slightly different type of emulsion sauce is when an emulsifier such as Dijon mustard is combined with oil to create the vinaigrette family of sauces.

Yet another group of emulsion sauces are known as butter sauces, They are made by melting butter, cooking it until the desired colour has been achieved, then mixing it with the relevant flavourings. Some regard the butter sauces as the sixth mother sauce.

Examples of these butter sauces include Beurre blanc (White butter), Beurre noisette (Brown butter) and Beurre noir (Black butter).

Tomato Sauce

This was a later entry to the list of five mother sauces, but was added because tomato sauces are the base for all manner of ketchup, barbecue sauces, hot sauces and sauces for pasta dishes and pizza (such as marinara sauce), not to mention many of the Italian meat dishes like veal parmigiano and chicken cacciatore.

A good tomato sauce must be made with ripe tomatoes which provide plenty of flavours, colour and nutritional benefits. Salad tomatoes will not give you the best result, instead choose fresh ripe Plum or Roma tomatoes.

If these are not available then you would do better to use Italian tinned tomatoes.

Top Tips

The main trick with any sauce (not just one of the five mother sauces) is not to hurry them. In most cases you can leave them to simmer, stirring occasionally. If you cook them through properly they will lose any starchiness, the flavours of their various seasonings will develop into a product with depth and complexity.

If you are making an emulsion sauce such as mayonnaise or Hollandaise, add the oil or butter very slowly, drop by drop, or it can split. If this happens, it is not a total disaster. In a clean bowl, place a tablespoon of tepid water and another egg yolk, whisk together, and then beat in your broken sauce adding just a tablespoonful at a time until it is all incorporated.

Don’t add too much seasoning, especially salt, until the sauce has finished cooking. Then taste carefully and adjust the seasoning before serving. The sauce should be seasoned and tasted repeatedly until you are satisfied.

We hope you found this guest contribution insightful and informative, as everyone should know a little about the five mother sauces.