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As Julia Child eloquently summed up: “Sauces are the glory and splendour of French cooking”.

French cookbooks like Larousse and Escoffier literally lists hundreds of sauces. To grasp a whole tome full of quirky names can be a tad intimidating but thankfully, this extensive list was consolidated to just five, which forms the foundation for many other sauces in French cuisine and hence the term "mother" sauce, while its variations “daughter” sauces.

Just with these 5 sauces, you can easily concoct a myriad of others just by adding spices, herbs and other ingredients. 

Saucy Basics
Simply put, a sauce is flavoured liquid plus thickening agent. By varying the combination of liquid, flavouring and thickening agent, the possibilities are endless.

Master the making of Roux ("roo"), a principal thickening agent, and you will have a whole bunch of French sauces at your fingertips as it is usually what you would start out making before transforming them into a rainbow of sauces. As seen below, Roux is used in 3 of the 5 mother sauces: Béchamel, Espagnole and Velouté. Heating equal parts in weight of flour and fat (usually butter) will produce white (5 mins), blond (20 mins) or brown (35 mins) Roux. The darker the Roux, the nuttier the flavour.

Emulsifying is another great skill to crack. Technically it means adding two liquids that do not usually mix, like oil and milk, here it involves gradually adding fat to mainly, whisked egg yolks.

The 5 French "Mother Sauces"

#1. Béchamel ("bay-sha-mel"). Commonly known as White Sauce.
Bechamel Mother Sauces
Credit: bonappetit.com
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Variation:
White and just a tad bit thicker than heavy cream.
Milk is simmered and thickened with white roux while whisking continuously to avoid lumps.
Pasta such as Lasagne and Cannelloni, mushrooms, vegetables, steamed or poached poultry.
With this sauce, you can easily make cheese and mustard-based sauces such as Sauce Mournay and Sauce Moutarde; add onions and you’ll get Sauce Soubise and mushrooms for Sauce Aux Champigon.

#2. Velouté ("vuh-loo-tay"). Béchamel made with stock instead of milk. The sauce is generally referred to by the bones used in the stock, for example, Fish Velouté.
Appearance:
How to:

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Variation:
White and creamy with a tinge of brown.
Uses white stock (stock made using unroasted bones) as base, thickened with blond roux.
Fish, poached or steamed chicken, eggs, pasta, vegetables and veal.
To make Supreme Sauce for chicken, add heavy cream or crème fraiche and season; thicken with egg yolks and cream to make Sauce Parisienne used often in hors d’oeurves.
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Credit: odt.co.nz

#3. Espagnole ("es-puhn-yohl"). Commonly known as Brown Sauce.
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Credit: The London Foodie
Appearance:
How to:

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Variation:
Viscous brown.
This rich sauce is made using beef/veal stock thickened with a brown roux.
Great with roasted meats.
Add wine and you’ll get Sauce Bordelaise; add bacon, carrots, onions, shallots and cracked peppercorns to make Sauce Poivrade.

#4. Hollandaise ("ol-uhn-dehz"). The classic butter sauce.
Appearance:

How to:




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Variation:
Pale buttery colour, sponge-cake-batter-like consistency
An emulsion of egg yolk, butter and lemon /white wine vinegar for that mild sour aftertaste. Heat control is essential here to prevent curdling of the sauce and therefore usually done in a double boiler.
Eggs Benedict, poached asparagus, grilled salmon, and lightly poached poultry.
Bearnaise sauce - one of its famous secondary sauces - is great with beef too.
Hollandaise Mother Sauce
Credit: goodtoknow.co.uk

#5. Tomate ("toe-maht"). The basis of many Provençal dishes.
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Credit: Menugourmet
Appearance:
How to:



Served with:

Variation:
Runny with bits of tomato pulp.
Render salt belly of pork/bacon, combine with fresh tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaves and thyme; classically thickened with roux, but modern versions tend to omit them in favour of using tomato puree.
Pizza base, pasta, baked fish, eggplants, veal chops or roast beef.
Reduce and spice with garlic and parsley for Sauce Portuguese; add wine and Provençale mixed herbs to get Sauce Provençale
So far so good? Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing our version of easy and authentic mother sauce recipes - stay tuned for updates

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