What Are the Five Mother Sauces?

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I get a ton of questions about cooking and food. In person. On Facebook. On Twitter. By e-mail. So many, in fact, that I decided to start publishing them in a column.

So! Have a question in the kitchen? Can’t quite figure something out? Ask the mouse! I’ll answer as many questions as I can.

Since I’ve been making a lot of sauce-y stuff lately, I figured I’d start out with this question.


What the heck is a “mother sauce”? Over the holidays, we had eggs benedict with homemade hollandaise. Someone mentioned that hollandaise was one of the Great Mother Sauces. What was he talking about?


When it comes to classic French cooking, there are five basic sauces—the so-called “mother” sauces—that provide the foundation for most sauces we know today.

French chef Antoine Careme designated the four mother sauces in his classic tome The Art of French Cooking in the 19th Century. Careme is known as the father of modern French cuisine. (He invented the chef’s toque. He cooked for royalty. He made Napoleon’s wedding cake.) Auguste Escoffier added tomato, hollandaise, and mayonnaise to the list later on.

Today, most lists generally include the five biggies: Bechamel, veloute, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato.

Use them as a base for all sorts of delicious sauciness. Enrich them with cream, add some cheese or stock or wine, toss in veggies and herbs. You get the picture.

What Are the Five Mother Sauces?

1. Bechamel Sauce

This is a classic white sauce. It’s the stuff we commonly refer to as cream sauce. You can use it to make a bunch of different sauces, including killer cheese sauce (see my Ultimate Mac n’ Cheese).

To make it, cook butter and flour together, then whisk in some milk. Its thickness depends on how much milk you add. The more milk, the thinner the sauce. Here’s a great basic recipe for Bechamel from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

2. Veloute Sauce

Veloute is a white sauce that’s made just like a Bechamel, except it’s with chicken, veal, or fish stock instead of milk. Try Emeril’s recipe here.

Use veloute as the basis for a piquant white wine sauce, add in tarragon, shallots, and chervil for Venetian Sauce, or make Sauce Albufera by adding in a little meat glaze (reduced brown sauce).

3. Espagnole Sauce

This is a brown sauce. It’s a combination of a dark brown roux (butter and flour cooked together until nutty brown), tomato paste, browned veggies, herbs, and rich meat stock.

Espagnole sauce the basis for Bordelaise sauce (with red wine, shallot, bay leaf, and thyme), sauce Robert (with white wine and onion sauteed in butter), and Chasseur sauce, aka hunter’s sauce (with mushroom, shallot, white wine, and tomato).

Try your hand at Gourmet’s recipe.

4. Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise is a rich, buttery yellow sauce that’s probably best known for its starring role atop eggs benedict.

To make hollandaise, egg yolks and lemon juice are whisked together with small amounts of oil so that the fat emulsifies, then the whole thing is enriched with butter.

Tyler Florence has a good recipe here.

5. Tomato Sauce

Tomato is, well, tomato sauce. Use it on pizza, pasta, meat, or chicken. Dress it up or down with ground sausage, mushrooms, olives, or any manner of veggies.

Everyone I know has a favorite recipe. (Come to think of it, I haven’t posted ours yet. I’ll have to remedy that soon.) Here’s how Mario Batali makes a basic red sauce.

Cooking question? Ask the Mouse!

E-mail your question to jessie@thehungrymouse.com. I’ll answer a few here each week.

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie works as an advertising copywriter in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.


  1. I remember the good ol' culinary school days when we not only had to memorize these 5 mother sauces, but at least 2 small (or secondary) sauces. And then we had to do them all for class. We had LOTS of sauces by the end of the night. The one trick I was taught that I use now instead of the way I used to do it is to cook the flour in the pan for a wee bit before adding clarified butter. Just for a little bit so the flour-y taste goes away. For the Espagnole, you just cook it a bit longer. I grew up melting butter in a pan then adding raw flour to it. Clarified butter is best b/c it's clearer and cleaner and then when adding it to slightly cooked flour, you don't have a gross floury paste anymore. :)
  2. I like that you're putting together this column. Great idea! I couldn't rattle off the five mother sauces (even after reading this article), but I did learn about them. Go me. When I first really began digging into cooking, my parents bought me the CIA's "Professional Chef". Awesome textbook with a great overview of cuisine and cooking. Great reference tool!
  3. Thanks for this enlightening post. I tried my hand at hollandaise once because my wife is an eggs benedict junkie... did not turn out so well, was way too lemony. I guess it takes a lot of practice! (gonna post this post on our fan page :)
  4. that is a very informative article, I've been wanting to try hollandaise sauce for sometime now because I hearing how amazing it is on eggs. I'm loving this new column!
  5. In the culinary world the Five Mother Sauces are taught just like basic knife handling skills. In Sauce Class one of the first tests is to make a Hollandaise and at least four variations of the basic. A great introductory review of them here! Culinarily yours, CCR =:~)
  6. I love that you are going to be answering questions. This is a very interesting post - I'm familiar with some that I didn't know the name of. :) I start drooling every time I come here and see the photo of your Ultimate Mac N' Cheese. I think I need to add the ingredients to my grocery list and start practicing making a bechamel sauce.
  7. Really great post! Now... to test if there really is "no such thing as a stupid question" Could someone tell me the correct way to pronounce the first two: Bechamel & Veloute Thanks!
  8. Great list! And good info to have... Many, many years ago when I had just devoured my first eggs benedict I said to a chef friend of mine, "I really want to learn how to make Hollandaise." He looked at me sadly and said, "Sara, that's the first thing you learn in culinary school." I made that same chef Eggs Benny recently and he said it was the best he ever had... Still working on the perfect Espagnole for him ;)
  9. I'm guessing mayonnaise would be considered part of the Hollandaise group (as both are emulsified)... right? And a question: Would the basic Espagnole sauce make a decent gravy (for a beef roast, mashed potatoes, etc.) or maybe work as the liquid part of a beef stew (or both)? I tried making a cheese sauce based on a recipe with 1 TBSP butter & flour, one cup of milk and 1/4 cup of cheddar. I found it to be far too thin for our improvised Philly steak sandwiches, so I doubled the cheddar and a bit more flour and butter -- adding that extra flour though, after the sauce had already been made... took forever to cook the flour taste out of the sauce. I must have added a teaspoon of salt and half that much pepper to try to save it. (and as previously stated, I doubled the cheese). Next time I'll simply start with more flour and butter (maybe 2 TBSP each...) for the initial roux, for each cup of milk. That'll hopefully give me the thickness i like, so I'm not chasing my tail for half an hour (hehe) trying to fix it. It was edible, and cheesy, but hopefully next time I won't have to re-heat the beef because the sauce took so long...
  10. Update: We did the Philly steaks again tonight. Cheese sauce: 2.5 TBSP butter, 2.5 TBSP flour, 1 cup milk, and about a large handful of freshly grated 1-year Wisconsin cheddar. S&P, just a few shakes this time. The sauce was pretty thick... perfect for topping the steak sandwiches, in that most of it managed to stay ON the sandwiches. hehe I ended up eating the remaining sauce with a spoon. So good and so easy! I'll never make Kraft mac and cheese again... I giguee I'll make a slightly thinner version of this sauce, mix it up with some cooked mac, top with more cheese and breadcrumbs, maybe add some chopped ham, and bake. Yum. Hallelujah! Next I'll add some Parmesan cheese (in cheddar's place) to the base bechamel for an easy Alfredo. Little garlic and olive oil too.
  11. Thank you so much for this post it was a big help, but I have one question. How do you pronounce Espagnole? thanks agian!!
    • No. It is an extra emulsion type sauce, and if you call it a sauce you might get some push back from culinarians. Similar to mayonase but much less stable. The reason I would think its not a true sauce is for that very fact. Because it never truly forms a bond and breaks very quickly.
  12. Starting cullinary school in a month. So helpful!!!! Getting a head start... and thanks to this colum practicing before. THANKS!
  13. […] Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, TX. I did their pastry program.  We didn’t learn all of the Mother Sauces, but I am so glad I was able to learn how to make this one. It is such a versatile sauce. It is so […]
  14. First time am hearing about Mother sauces now i come to known how much important given in world culinary. I am very glad for this information. Thanks.
  15. Dear, jessie its great, I know it about the five mother sauce, actually I am professional cook, work long time a go in the kitchen, but I dint mined , I love it that
  16. A big thank you to the people whom posted all this info on the five mother sauces as it helped me refresh my memmories on how to make these sauces as I am a trained chef but I sadly am no longer really using my knowledge and practices I hope to one day soon rectify this problem.