The five mother sauces are the base sauces from which most other cooked sauces are made. By incorporating additional ingredients into a mother sauce, you can create numerous small or compound sauces.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is a sauce? Sauces typically consist of a flavorful liquid and a thickener, an ingredient or combination of ingredients that give the sauce a thicker consistency. Flavored liquids can include stocks, milk, cream, vegetable purees and butter. Common thickening agents include:
Roux: equal parts fat and flour whisked together over heat until a paste is formed;
Cornstarch: a fine, white powder literally made from the ground starch removed from corn;
Arrowroot: similar to cornstarch and used in the same way, made from ground plant roots;
Beurre manié: (pronounced buhr mon yay) equal parts softened butter and flour kneaded together then whisked in small portions into a hot sauce; and
Liaison: a mixture of egg yolks and heavy cream, whisked together and carefully incorporated into a warm sauce.
The Five Classic Mother Sauces
1. Béchamel – a rich, creamy, smooth white sauce with a subtle onion flavor made by simmering an onion studded with whole cloves in milk and adding the infused milk (minus the onion)to a white roux.
2. Velouté –a rich, smooth, ivory colored sauce made by thickening chicken, veal or fish stock with roux.
3. Espagnole – full-bodied sauce made by adding brown roux, pureed tomatoes and mirepoix to brown stock; usually used to make demi-glace.
4. Tomato – traditionally made by adding roux to tomatoes, veggies, and stock, most of today’s tomato sauces do not include roux, but rely on a puree of the cooked ingredients for thickening.
5. Hollandaise – a smooth, buttery, pale yellow sauce made by whisking melted butter into a mixture of egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar. Hollandaise is the only mother sauce served as is.