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What are the mother sauces in French cuisine?

Le Cordon Bleu article - sauces

Sauces are an integral part of French culinary tradition, introducing richness, flavour and texture to a dish. The mother sauces are essential knowledge in French cooking, and aspiring chefs will learn all about them in a Le Cordon Bleu Diplôme de Cuisine.

What is a mother sauce?

One of five French mother sauces is at the foundation of nearly every sauce you will ever make.

The French mother sauces date back to the cornerstone work of Marie-Antoine Carême, a renowned 19th century chef. Carême created a vast repertoire of sauces - and each was a variation of four mother sauces. Georges Auguste Escoffier, Carême's 20th century contemporary, later updated this list in Le Guide Culinaire, demoting the allemande sauce to a child of the velouté, and adding sauce Tomat.

At the heart of these sauces is a thickening agent called a roux, made by cooking flour and fat (usually butter) together before other sauce ingredients are added.

The 5 French Mother Sauces

Escoffier's five sauces survive today as core elements of French cuisine, and are commonly adopted in other culinary styles. The five mother sauces are:

  1. Velouté: Translating to "velvety", a velouté is a lightly coloured, smooth sauce made from a roux and stock (usually chicken or fish). Carême's allemande sauce follows this same recipe, but with the addition of lemon juice, egg yolks and cream.
  2. Béchamel: This is commonly known as 'white sauce' and is the base from which Mornay, or cheese sauce, is made. A basic béchamel is made from a light roux and milk.
  3. Espagnole: Originating from Spain, espagnole is a brown sauce with a rich flavour. It is the mother to more popular sauces such as bourguignonne and demi-glace. Espagnole is made from a dark roux, in which the flour is toasted before fat is added, followed by a veal or beef stock made from roasted bones. Mirepoix, aromatics and tomato purée are often added for flavour.
  4. Sauce Tomat: Commonly used on pasta dishes, sauce tomat is made by reducing tomatoes until the liquid thickens. Traditionally, a roux is used to thicken sauce tomat, however many modern chefs won't do this as it's not strictly necessary.
  5. Hollandaise: The heart and soul of eggs benedict, hollandaise is a rich sauce made by slowly pouring melted butter into egg yolks while whisking. Hollandaise is often flavoured with an acid like vinegar or lemon juice, and pepper.

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