Every cook should know 5 French or French sauces

The five mother French sauces are: Béchamel, Velute, Espanol, Hollandaise, and Tomato. Read on to find out how to make each one.

In the nineteenth century, Marie Antoine Karima smeared bechamel, vellotte, español and tomato sauce as the building blocks of all the other sauces in his work “L’Art de la Cuisine Française au Dix-Neuvième Siecle”. Later, Hollandis was added to the family. Since then, many people have considered other sauces—sweet and savory from around the world—unofficial extended relatives of these five sauces.

Although some would argue the importance of chimichurri and chocolate sauce, knowing the five French sauces that will prove essential. They may sound intimidating, but Mother Sauces will fuel your kitchen’s confidence. With a few simple ingredients (mostly flour, butter, liquid) and easy techniques, these five sauces, all equally important to your cooking stock, serve as a springboard to a slew of other classics.

Once you get a feel for these sauces, you’ll be able to whisk them whenever you want. And soon enough, you’ll feel confident enough to break with tradition and take Mother’s Day sauce somewhere you’ve never been before. Here’s what you need to know about the basic building blocks of sauces:

Regardless of flavor, the most important component of any sauce is its ability to choke on and cling to anything dripping or pouring on it. This means making the sauce thick and firm, and this is done through three techniques: roux, emulsifier, and reduction (a liquid that slowly simmers until thickened).

Four out of five sauces start with roux. Roux is a popular name for flour mixed with fat. Cook equal parts butter and flour over medium heat, then add liquid. This mixture then boils, thickens (reduces), and becomes the basis of your sauce. Just note, if you’re making a white sauce – such as bechamel or veluté – don’t brown the butter because it will darken the end product. Another mother sauce is the product of emulsification, which I will explain below.

Here are the basic formulas for the five mother sauces:

sauce: roux + dairy (traditional milk or cream)
velvety: roux + white broth (traditionally chicken, but also vegetables or fish)
Spanish: Roe + brown broth (traditional veal or beef)
tomatoes: roux + tomatoes (or go the Italian way by skipping the roux and simply reducing the tomatoes over medium-low heat until thickened)
Hollandes: Egg yolk + pure melted butter + acid (eg lemon juice or white wine)

Now that you understand the basics, Let’s talk about each um sauce in more detail (and what it can be paired with):

1. Bechamel

If you’ve ever eaten homemade macaroni and cheese, a classic Croque Madame, or lasagna, you’ve probably tried the rich béchamel cream. It can be made in its simplest form by combining only roux and cream, or it can be mixed with other ingredients to create new sauces: Mornay is made by adding Gruyère or Parmesan, and mustard sauce is made by adding – you guessed it – mustard.

Recipes to flaunt your bechamel skills

Mac and cheese baked with cream

Baking macaroni and cheese means you get the best of both worlds: a crunchy topping and a creamy interior. Recipe developer Josh Cohen has a trick to avoid any drying out while baking: Cook the pasta well and use the extra cheese sauce.

Croque Madame Spicy Dish

The classic ham and cheese croque monsieur becomes the classic lady with the addition of an egg. In this recipe from Justine Chapple’s cookbook “Just Cook It,” it becomes a hot, Midwestern casserole with béchamel, ham, and Gruyere, and is topped with fried eggs.

Lasagna Bolognese

Proper lasagna bolognese takes time. Time to make the meat sauce. It’s time to make the leaden bechamel parmigiano; It’s time for a layer of pasta, sauces, and cheese; It’s time for a nice long baking; And most importantly, it’s time to savor every bite.

Here are some other ways to use bechamel:

  • Replace bechamel with some cream in gratin.
  • Pour it over the polenta buns and roast for a few minutes until bubbling and golden brown.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of béchamel, here’s how to get more creative: Create a classic bechamel dish with soy and miso for a fresh take on Miso-Creamed Kale from Trent Pierce or Nobu’s Fried Asparagus.

2. Creamy

Like good old béchamel, Velouté starts with a white roux, but is then mixed with a white broth made with fish, chicken, or veal. Technically not a finished sauce, it’s used as a delicious starting point for gravies, mushroom sauces (hello chicken pie) and shrimp sauce (hello shrimp bisque).

Get Velouté with these recipes

Mushroom soup

This Parisian-inspired mushroom soup is made with butter and cognac, and it’s as hot as it is cold.

Deep Dish Chicken Pot Pie

Is there anything more comforting than a chicken pot pie? Yes: chicken pie in a deep dish. This creamy meal is baked in a springform skillet, making it a great patty that will stick to your ribs.

Milk Drop Biscuits and Sausage Gravy from Millie-Perité

Chef Millie Beartree’s Biscuits and Sausage Gravy is for those lazy mornings when you’re craving a breakfast that will keep you full for hours.

Here are some other ways to use velvety:

  • Velouté is whipped up with veal broth, then used to make Swedish meatballs.
  • Spread biscuits with herbal broth for breakfast.

Once you’ve mastered basic Velouté, here’s how to get more creative: Make vegan veloute with mushroom stock for a mushroom and thyme vegetable broth.

3. Spanish

Although some think blonde roux has more fun, Espanol proves that dark roux knows how to party, too. Also known as brown sauce, español begins with mirapoix (carrots, celery, and onions), beef broth, and decadent brown (shiny) pieces of beef bone. From there, tomato paste and spices can be added.

To make demi-glace, a rich brown French sauce, combine espanol with more of the meat broth; To make Bordelaise, a red wine sauce that pairs well with steak and mushrooms, mix demi-glace with red wine and herbs. Serve this with filet mignon for an excellent dinner.

Discover Espanol in these recipes

Marchand de Vin steak

This recipe, from “Canal House: Cook Something,” calls for store-bought veal—we’re fans of any concise way that makes dinner faster.

Cooked Dan Barber Short Ribs

Chef Dan Barber’s Cooked Short Ribs take classic Espanol to new heights with the addition of tangy tamarind paste, which cuts through the fat of the meat.

Here are some other ways to use Espanol and its variations:

4. Tomato

Possibly the first mom’s sauce she’s ever tasted (over a bowl full of spaghetti), tomato sauce is often just a mixture of onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Although some traditionalists might start with a roux, most tomato sauces rely solely on reducing the tomatoes to build flavor and create thickness.

Tomato, tom-ah-to – You Need These Sauce Recipes

pizza sauce

Sure, pizza sauce isn’t classic French, but the two are undoubtedly related. We like to keep a quart of this in the fridge for pizza emergencies.

Yotam Ottolenghi Shakshuka

The saucy Shakshuka tomato base isn’t traditionally French either, but it is is being Perfect for lovers of savory breakfasts – but we love this recipe any time of the day.

Once you’ve mastered basic tomato sauce, here’s how to get more creative: Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce can’t be beat, but if you want to think outside of Italy, use tomato sauce to make lentil cakes with Tikka Masala instead.

5. Hollandaise

Think of Hollandaise as a fancy mayonnaise that uses clarified butter instead of oil and is sprinkled over asparagus and eggs without judgment. Instead of using roux or shortening, Hollandaise uses the emulsifying method: using a binding agent (in this case, egg yolk) to force two ingredients that don’t mix well together (here, butter and lemon juice) to like each other a lot. Hollands take patience, as you will need to smooth the mixture so that the eggs do not curdle. The sauce can break easily, but you can put everything back together by adding a bit of heavy cream and whisking until the sauce is back to its smooth state; Or use Amanda’s trick to fix broken aioli—a close relative of Hollandaise sauce—by using broken emulsifier to start the next batch. Sounds like a lot of hard work? This Fried Green Tomato Benedict makes it all worth it.

When mixed with unsweetened whipped cream, Hollandaise suddenly becomes an airy muslin that can be poured over fish or vegetables.

Recipes when you want hollandaise for days

Hollandaise sauce

Start strong with this classic hollandaise sauce recipe to stay reference.

Avocado Toast Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict (or Florentine) is instantly enhanced when combined with another breakfast favorite: avocado toast.

Poached Eggs With Hollandaise Miso Brown Butter

Try the Miso Food52 Resident Mandy Lee and Hollandaise Brown Butter, and you may never make a classic recipe again.

Bernese is another relative of Hollandaise. But unlike Hollandaise, which contains lemon juice, Béarnaise is scented with tarragon, shallots, and white wine vinegar.

Here are some other ways to use Hollandes:

Once you’ve mastered basic Dutch, here’s how to get more creative: Let another breakfast staple have the creamy Hollandaise with this delicious oatmeal recipe. Or take your next caramelized ham to new heights by substituting mayonnaise for hollandaise drizzled with sriracha.

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