The Five Mother Sauces

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Psalm 24:4-6       The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,  who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.  5 They will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God their Savior. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.


As promised I am showing off some of the delectable food that we were served on our recent trip.  I hope you enjoy the pictures!  It is a walk down salivary lane for me!  Pork Medallions with Green Hollandaise, Fruit Parfait with Mango Sorbet and Eggs Benedict (which I ate a little too often – oh, they are my favorite!)

I have several recipes I want to share that include sauces of varying kinds.  Since we tasted many of these sauces on foods recently served to us, I think this is a good time to delve into saucing!   I am starting with this information and recipes for the basic 5 “mother sauces” (although there are really 6 if you split out mayonnaise and hollandaise!)  But since I am no culinary expert, I will refer to what is known as the basic five.   If making these sauces seems over-whelming, don’t let it be.  I just started with one, used it a couple times and then went on to the others over time.

A sauce is the crowning glory of any dish. From the basic “five mother sauces”, there are literally hundreds of variations of sauce that are used to dress, compliment, enhance and bring out the flavor of the food it is served with.

According to the ultimate cooking reference book, The New Food Lover’s Companion, by Sharon Tyler Herbst, the French are credited with refining the sophisticated art of sauce-making. The development of various sauces over the years stems from the 19th-century French chef Antonin Carême who evolved an intricate methodology by which hundreds of sauces were classified under one of five “mother sauces.”

Those basic sauces are the white sauce Béchamel, the light stock-based Velouté, the brown stock-based Espagnole; the two basic emulsified sauces, Hollandaise and Mayonnaise; and the oil and vinegar-based Vinaigrette. (Tomato is considered to be among the mother sauces, however, it actually came about later…although it certainly has earned the title since it is the base for a large variety of sauces in today’s cookery.)

The method for preparing the various types of sauces incorporates some of the same techniques. For example, a roux is basic to many of the white and brown sauces. This cooked mixture of flour and fat (usually butter) is an important contribution to the sauce-making art. In addition, these classic sauces have been joined by a plethora of modern-day sauces such as sweet dessert sauces, tomato, pesto and barbecue sauces, as well as a wide variety of gravies.

Always remember that when a sauce is used on a food, it is the first thing to touch the tongue. A sauce is only as good as the ingredients you put into it and the care you take while preparing it. On the other hand, a good sauce does little to make inferior food taste better. Always put a good sauce on good food. Thankfully, we no longer use sauce to mask “off-tasting food” as was once the practice in times before modern refrigeration! Yuck!


(Click on the name of the sauce to open the actual recipe in PDF form.)

Béchamel, the classic white sauce, was named after its inventor, Louis XIV’s steward Louis de Béchamel. The king of all sauces, it is often referred to as a cream sauce because of its appearance and is probably used most frequently in all types of dishes. Made by stirring milk into a butter-flour roux, the thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of flour and butter to milk.

Veloute with mushrooms

is a stock-based white sauce. It can be made from chicken, veal or fish stock. Enrichments such as egg yolks or cream are sometimes also added.

Espagnole, or brown sauce, is traditionally made of a rich meat stock, a mirepoix of browned vegetables (most often a mixture of diced onion, carrots and celery), a nicely browned roux, herbs and sometimes tomato paste.  Espagnole is used when making a demi-glace.  I personally have never put this much time into the brown sauce or the demi-glace.  But if you are interested, here is a website HEAT AND KNIVES that goes the distance with this recipe!

Hollandaise and Mayonnaise are two sauces that are made with an emulsion of egg yolks and fat.

Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise

Hollandaise is made with butter, egg yolks and lemon juice, usually in a double boiler to prevent overheating, and served warm. It is generally used to embellish vegetables, fish and egg dishes, such as the classic Eggs Benedict (one of my very favorites.)  

Mayonnaise is a thick, creamy dressing that’s an emulsion of vegetable oil, egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar and seasonings. It is widely used as a spread, a dressing and as a sauce. It’s also used as the base for such mixtures as Tartar Sauce, Thousand Island Dressing, Aïoli, and Remoulade.

Vinaigrette is a sauce made of a simple blend of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper

Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette

(usually 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar).   More elaborate variations can include any combination of spices, herbs, shallots, onions, mustard, etc. It is generally used to dress salad greens and other cold vegetable, meat or fish dishes.


Constantly stir roux-thickened sauces while cooking to prevent lumps.

If you must leave the sauce for a few seconds, set the pan off the heat during that time.

If a roux-thickened sauce develops a few lumps, beat them out with a rotary beater or wire whisk.  As a last resort, strain sauce with sieve to remove lumps.

Cook egg-thickened sauces over low heat, or cook these sauces in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water.

Always temper (warm) the egg yolks before adding them to the sauce by first stirring in a little of the hot sauce mixture into them. Then add to the remainder of the sauce mixture. Never let a sauce boil after the egg yolks are added as the sauce may curdle.

Don’t let water boil in the bottom of the double boiler if you use it to make egg-thickened sauces. Also, be sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan holding the sauce.

If you click on each of these links it will pull up the recipe in a printable PDF format:

Basic Bechamel (White Sauce) with Variations

Basic Velouté Sauce with Variations

Basic Espagnole (Brown Sauce) with Variations

Basic Mayonnaise with Variations

Basic Hollandaise with Variations

Basic Vinaigrette with Variations

Recipes using these sauces to follow!

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