The French five: Sauces made simple

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The five French mother sauces: veloute, bechemal with mozzarella, demi-glace made from espagnole base, hollandaise and pizza sauce. Photo credit: Victoria Petersen

The five French mother sauces are known as the base sauces, where all sauces derive from, and are easy to customize for whatever the occasion calls for. The five sauces are hollandaise, bechamel, veloute, sauc tomat and espagnole. In the 19th century Antoine Careme organized a list of four base sauces as part of a family of building-block sauces. In the following century Chef Auguste Escoffier added hollandaise to the list, while taking down allemande and replacing it with sauc tomat.

Each sauce is unique and versatile enough to be created into any savory or sweet sauce of your choosing. With each base sauce I’m going to outline a recipe. Four out of five of the mother sauces are made using a roux. Roux is used to bind together the sauce so that it’s thick. Hollandaise uses a technique known as emulsification, which is combining fats into water. This process can be tricky as fat and water, chemically, do not like to mix. You can make the two products mix by shearing power, mixing, stirring, or blending, to allow the combination to take place. Although these sauces are tricky they are well worth the time and effort.


Hollandaise, classically served on eggs Benedict is a thick creamy sauce that is also popular served over cooked vegetables. With a base of egg yolks and butter. Salt, pepper, lemon juice and cayenne pepper are popular additions to the sauce. Inspired by the food blog “seriouseats,” this fast hollandaise uses a food processor/immersion blender as an emulsification short cut. It’s important to note that hollandaise sauce is a sauce that needs to be served immediately. If cooled and served later, the sauce will break and no longer be good.

Yields: 1.5 cups


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1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Pinch of salt to taste

Pinch of pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne to taste

1 stick of butter


1. In the blender or food processor, combine the yolk, water, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

2. Melt the butter in the microwave until it is completely liquid.

3. Add the butter to the rest of the ingredients, blending in the food processor. This is where the emulsification process takes place. The sauce should be thick and creamy. Serve immediately.


A classic white sauce with a base of milk, usually whole milk, uses roux to thicken it and create that thick comfort food feel. If you’ve ever had or made homemade macaroni and cheese then you have had bechamel. Bechamel is popularly served over pasta, eggs and fish, and most popularly combined with cheese. Food blogger “thecookspyjamas” shares the secrets to her “lovely full-bodied” sauce, which inspired the recipe below. Unlike hollandaise, bechamel stores well in the freezer and can be made ahead of time without risk of losing flavor or binding.

Yields: 2 cups


¼ cup butter

1/3 cup flour

2 cups whole milk

½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste


1. In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add flour when melted and whisk until smooth. This is your roux.

2. For about two minutes, whisk constantly until the roux browns and bubbles occur.

3. While stirring, slowly add the milk so that lumps do not form.

4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Stir frequently over low heat, for about five minutes, as it thickens.

6. Once the sauce is almost to a boil, add both cheeses and stir until thoroughly combined.

7. Serve hot or store for later use.


Veloute sauce is classically made with veal stock, but also can be used with chicken and fish stock. Sort of like a light gravy, veloute can be used in chicken pot pie or in biscuits and gravy. More classically it is used to make a sauce vin blanc, or white wine sauce, by adding dry white wine, lemon, cream, and butter to the veloute base.


3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups chicken stock

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste


1. In a saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat. Whisk the flour in and cook for about two minutes. Gradually and carefully whisk the chicken stock in at about a quarter cup at a time. Add the salt and pepper after.

2. Bring to a boil. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to low and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Sauc tomat

Most likely to be the most familiar of the mother sauces, tomato sauce (or sauc tomat), is the mother sauce of classics like marinara sauce or pizza sauce. Sauc tomat is typically made without a thickening agent, like roux, as the tomatoes are typically solid enough when combined with spices to have the desired thickness on their own. Besides classics like spaghetti and pizza sauc tomat is the basis for the Indian classic tikka masala. Inspired by Roberta’s, a Brooklyn pizza restaurant and institution, this extremely easy and simple pizza sauce is sure to be tasty, and easy on the college student budget. Spread the sauce on some pizza dough, add slices of mozzarella, sprinkle basil over the top, and bake for a simple, but delicious Margherita pizza.

Simple pizza sauce


1 can of whole tomatoes

2 teaspoons of olive oil

A pinch of salt to taste


1. Pour the tomatoes out of the can into a blender or food processor.

2. Add the salt and olive oil and blend until smooth.


Known as brown sauce, this mother sauce uses a brown roux as its thickening agent. The difference between a white roux (used for bechamel) is that instead of cooking the flour and oil for a couple minutes until it’s evenly mixed, a brown roux will be cooked longer and is complete when the oil and the flour are browned. The base for espagnole is classically a roasted veal stock, but in modern times chicken stocks are often used. This gravy-like sauce is typically used to spread over meat. Demi-glace, a popular derivative of espagnole, is usually combined with rich red wine and served over filet mignon for a more fancy dinner. Add a demi-glace over any steak to bring your dinner to the next level. This easy demi-glace, inspired by an E-how contributor, takes the task of boiling bones and the wait down to a simple five minute-prep recipe.


2 cans beef broth

2 large carrots

4 cloves of garlic, cut in half

1/2 cup of red wine

6 tablespoons butter


1. Combine two cans of the beef broth, four cloves of cut garlic, and two skinned carrots cut in half, and one half cup of cut parsley in a saucepan over low heat for one hour stirring the pan once at the thirty minute mark.

2. Once it has simmered for one hour add a 1/2 cup of red wine (I used Malbec). Simmer for another 25 minutes.

3. Cut the butter into six parts and stir into the mixture with a whisk. When the butter is melted into the broth the demi-glace is ready. The sauce is able to sit out for about an hour before serving, but should not be stored. This sauce is best served over roasted meats, especially steak.