Classic French cooking designates these five basic recipes as the building blocks for many famous sauces and dishes.
By simply combining a liquid, a thickening agent, and a choice of flavorful ingredients, a club chef can build a sauce that ties a dish together. These mixtures—from the béarnaise sauce on a cut of steak to the cream sauce in lasagna—all stem back from five main “mother sauces” that chefs should learn in early training.
The five mother sauces that every club chef knows include:
Each of these combinations provides a base for different flavor profiles that lead to other well-known sauces and glazes. The term “mother sauces” refers back to some of the original methods used in French cooking instruction. The first four sauces—since Hollandaise was added later—were deemed by 19th Century Chef Marie-Antoine Carême to be the basis of all other sauces.
Three of the five mother sauces start with a roux—a combination of a melted fat and a flour. Depending on how long the roux is cooked, it can range from the basic white base found in the bechamel sauce to the dark and rich flavor of Espagnole. The Veloute falls in the middle, with a mildly toasted roux.
Each of these three sauces can be combined with ingredient stocks, cream, cheese, mustard, mushrooms, and herbs to become some of the most recognizable sauces on plates today.
The tomato sauce is occasionally thickened with a roux, but can also stand on its own for simpler tomato-based dishes. The hollandaise sauce is a bit trickier, whipping together clarified butter with egg yolks and an acid.
These five mother sauces provide a launching point for club chefs to build their desired flavors on a dependable foundation. Most importantly, each one is thick enough to coat and cling to the main ingredients it hopes to highlight, providing a cohesive finish to the meal.