Last weekend’s Mother’s Day celebrations got me thinking about mother sauces. Just as moms produce small children, mother sauces produce small sauces. The five mother sauces are the base sauces from which most other cooked sauces are made. By incorporating additional ingredients into the mother sauces, 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.