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 je[email protected]. I’ll answer a few here each week.