Mother sauces are the basic sauces used widely in French and European cuisines, which become a base to prepare other derivative sauces or daughter sauces, which we use in many popular everyday dishes
The classic French cuisine has mesmerised the gastronomic world for centuries. Authentic French gourmet cuisine involves classical menus and multiple courses as a degustation of the chef’s culinary prowess. Silver service, with each course paired with a harmonising wine, all done with the famed French finesse, with exquisite crockery, cutlery, and glassware, is what makes French cuisine one of the most sought-after cuisines in the world.
The gastronomical world does owe a lot to the French for being pioneers in many ways that are now followed worldwide. the classification of courses (Entre, hors-d’oeuvre, Salade etc.) The Food and wine harmony to the hierarchy of chefs followed in hotels or the classification of eating outlets (Bistro, Brasserie, Café etc.). The widely used term Restaurant is derived from the French term ‘Restaurer’, meaning to ‘refresh or ‘restore’.
Speaking about culinary art, France has led the world in many ways, one of which is the classification of Mother sauces. Mother sauces are the basic sauces used widely in French and European cuisines, which become a base to prepare other derivative sauces or daughter sauces, which we use in many popular everyday dishes.
French chef, Auguste Escoffier, presented the world with these mother sauces, which was a part of the English language edition of his cookery book ‘Le Guide Culinaire’ in 1907. More than a century later, this seminal work of Chef Auguste Escoffier is still a basis for gastronomical learning in all culinary schools worldwide.
Many of you drool over a well-made Lasagna, a Mac and cheese, or a mornay sauce dip as an accompaniment to delicious starters. Bechamel sauce, also known as a white sauce, is one of the Mother sauces described by Chef Escoffier.
Sauces are liquids thickened using a thickener, also called a ‘Roux’; Flour and fat in equal quantities are cooked together to various degrees of doneness, described by the colour of the resultant roux. For a bechamel sauce, a white roux is cooked using refined flour and butter and then mixed with milk. Consistent stirring is required to ensure no lumps are formed. With the additional flavour of Onion, Nutmeg, and Cloves, and the continued simmering of the sauce, till it reaches a creamy and velvety, a very basic and delicious bechamel sauce is ready.
Bechamel sauce is used to prepare a variety of pasta dishes and lasagna, and even French casseroles.
Cream Sauce - Bechamel with Heavy Cream
Mornay Sauce - Bechamel with gruyere cheese, parmesan, onion and cloves.
Cheddar Sauce – Bechamel with whole milk and cheddar sauce
As crucial as a roux is to prepare thick and velvety sauces, a well-made flavourful stock is equally important to impart the delicious taste and flavour to many great sauces of the world. Velouté sauce is another essential and simple sauce to make, using white roux and white stock. A white stock can be prepared with chicken. However, a ‘Veal Velouté’ or a ‘Fish Velouté’ can also be prepared using the veal stock or fish stock.
One can make various daughter sauces out of a well-made Velouté, like
Allemande – Chicken Velouté with egg yolk, cream, and lemon juice.
Supreme – Chicken Veloute with heavy cream and mushrooms.
Venetian – Fish Veloute with shallots, tarragon, and parsley
Normande – Fish Veloute with cream, butter, and egg yolks
A roux can be cooked to various degrees of doneness. While the Bechamel and Velouté use a white roux, the roux is cooked for Espagnole sauce until it becomes brown. If we add a brown stock to the brown roux., we get the base for preparing an Espagnole sauce.
While preparing an Espagnole, the well-roasted and simmered (reduced) brown stock made from veal or beef bones should be kept in mind. Pureed Tomatoes and a Mirepoix (Sauteed and diced) of onion, carrots, and celery are added to attain the rich and complex flavour of an Espagnole (Brown sauce), which goes on to create many delicious sauces, often used to cook or serve along with meat dishes.
Demi-glace: A commonly used sauce in continental kitchens, a demi-glace is half Espagnole with half brown stock; additional herbs and spices are added to make Demi-glace a thick and concentrated version of an Espagnole.
Charcuterie: Espagnole with dry mustard, white wine, onions, and lemon juice
Mushroom sauce: Espagnole with mushroom, shallots, sherry (a fortified wine), and lemon juice.
Burgundy (Red wine sauce): Espagnole with red wine and shallots
From roux-based sauces, we move to the emulsified sauce called Hollandaise. The process of continuous whisking emulsifies egg yolk and warm butter. Unlike roux-based sauces, preparing a Hollandaise is more challenging, as egg yolks and butter are not easy to mix, and a bit of negligence can result in a broken or split sauce. Melted and room temperature butter must be slowly whisked into the egg yolks to create a beautiful yellow-coloured emulsified Hollandaise, which we all love with our egg benedict.
A well-made Hollandaise sauce can do wonders for many dishes and create some fantastic and helpful daughter sauces.
Maltaise: Hollandaise with blood orange juice
Bearnaise: Hollandaise with white wine, Tarragon, and peppercorn
Mousseline: Hollandaise with heavy cream
Tomato sauce is inarguably the most famous Mother sauce. Its profound and delicious flavours help prepare numerous dishes worldwide and is a widely used sauce to prepare many derivative sauces.
Tomato can be thickened into a puree-like consistency upon continued simmering. However, the French recommend a roux, to begin with, flavoured with pork, herbs, onion, and garlic, to prepare a well-seasoned sauce.
Some of the key derivatives of Tomato sauce are:
Marinara Sauce: Tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and herbs
Provencal: Tomato sauce with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, and parsley.
Creole: Tomato Sauce with white wine, onion, garlic, red bell peppers, and cayenne pepper.
Mayonnaise (Cold Sauce)
Mayonnaise, also commonly called Mayo, needs no introduction. A cold sauce, often used as a spread or a dipping sauce, is one of the most famous and widely used mother sauces. The temperature at which mayonnaise is served differentiates it from the other mother sauces; however, as a cold emulsified sauce (Egg yolks and Oil), Mayyonaise is easily combined with other ingredients to create many derivatives.
Just like hollandaise, preparing mayonnaise is a tricky work of skilled hands; slow and continuous whisking is required, and additional lime juice or vinegar to create a well emulsified and creamy mayonnaise. While mayonnaise is a handy sauce in many kitchens and sandwich bars, the many popular derivatives of mayonnaise are indispensable in the gastronomic world.
Tartar sauce: Mayonnaise with chopped gherkins, capers, tarragon and dill.
Rouille: Mayonnaise with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron, and cayenne pepper
Thousand Island Dressing: Mayonnaise with olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, mustard, cream, chilli sauce, tomato puree, and vinegar.
Learning about these six mother sauces and their many derivatives is always the stepping stone to understanding greater culinary skills. Many chefs in the past have worked towards creating and classifying the knowledge bank for later generations to learn from and use. As we understand the introductory chemistry behind the emulsification and the components of these great sauces, it puts us in good stead to prepare many unique dishes and learn about various international cuisine with excitement and a better understanding.
Keep Cooking, Keep Sharing!
Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration.