What is a Mother Sauce?

Mother sauces come from the classical French cooking style of the 19th and 20th centuries. They can be used as a base for any sauce you would need for cooking. This is a quick introduction to the “big five.” They are called this because almost any sauce you can think of starts off with these five basic recipes. You will also learn about thickening agents that are used to complete the sauces.

The Big Five Mother Sauces:

  1. Bechamel: This is a very basic sauce, a thickened milk or cream combined with a roux.
  2. Veloute: Also a very basic white sauce, this uses some sort of stock, like chicken, veal or fish, combined with the roux again.
  3. Espagnol: This is a more complicated sauce. It is similar to a veloute in that it uses a stock, but here you will use a dark chicken or beef stock. Roux is used here again along with a mire poix. The mire poix is a mix of 50% onion, 25% carrots, and 25% celery.
  4. Tomato: This is the traditional tomato sauce, just homemade! It uses tomato puree and a light stock (either vegetable or meat)Tomato puree, you can use a light stock, a vegetable stock, chicken stock, light veal stock. Reduce that down to create your tomato sauce. You can make that to be very versatile as well. Chicken, pasta, a lot of different things.
  5. Hollandaise: This is the newest sauce recipe in the big five. Using the fat from clarified butter, you add that to some whisked egg yolks.  This sauce is commonly used for Eggs Benedict.

Another part of the mother sauces are the thickening agents. These are ingredients that are used to make the ingredients in the sauces less watery and more sauce-like. This is because all the really makes up a sauce is some sort of liquid, a thickening agent, and some kind of flavoring ingredients.

Thickening Agents for Mother Sauces - whiteboard introduction

Thickening Agents:

  1. Roux: Using a saute pan, equal amounts of clarified butter and flour are placed in the pan. A ratio of this thickening agent to the sauce you are making is 4 ounces of roux for every quart of liquid. There are two different rouxs: light and dark. The difference is that the dark sauce is cooked until it turns brown. This thickening agent is good for liquids like gravies.
  2. Liason: This thickening agent uses eggs to make your liquids more sauce-like. Using just the egg whites, you pour some of the liquid into the egg mixture and mix. That is called tempering. Then you pour the tempered sauce back into the liquid on the stove top.
  3. Slurry: This is most commonly used in Asian cooking, but it is good for all types of sauces. t involved equal parts corn starch and water. This will create a glaze-like sauce.

Chef Blake’s biggest tip about thickening agents is that they reach their thickest at a full boil. That is when you know they are ready to go!

This is just a quick introduction to these mother sauces and what they are. Over the next few weeks we will be publishing a more in-depth post on each of these 5 recipes. We will also go into more depth on how to use the thickening agents.

What is clarified butter?

A couple of these explanations say to use clarified butter as part of the recipe. This is a term not common used, so we have a little explanation of what it is for you. It involves cooking butter in a pan on low heat and letting it simmer. Then you remove the butter from heat, skim the foam off the top and pour the liquid into a container.

There will be some milky fat solids on the bottom of the pan that you do not want. This process allows you to use the clarified butter a higher cooking temperature than regular butter.

Here are links to the in-depth mother sauce recipe posts:

  1. Bechamel Sauce
  2. Veloute Sauce
  3. Espagnole Sauce
  4. Classic Tomato Sauce
  5. Hollandaise Sauce

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The Mother Sauces Introduction

This video with Chef Blake is a great introduction to understanding these five basic sauces of the cooking world.


Start Mother Sauces Video Transcript:

Hello, welcome to Rada’s Test Kitchen. My name is Blake and today we’ll be going through the five basic mother sauces. This is based off of the French mother sauces.

Here we have the first one. Kind of a basic. A thickened dairy or milk or cream. The basis of it is the milk and we use a light roux to thicken it up. One thing you can get out of this is a peppered gravy. If you were to start breaking down sausage, you can add flour into that and milk and it creates a pepper gravy for biscuits and gravy which you’ll find in one of our other videos.

Our second one is a veloute. The veloute is using a light stock like fish stock, chicken stock, a light veal sauce. Thicken it with a light roux and make a vin de blanc or white wine sauce. That’s something that can go over fish or chicken. The versatility is nice.

The espagnol starts with a mire poix. The mire poix is a 50% onion, 25% carrots, 25% celery. It’s a base to get the flavors out. You sauté those up in the butter, get those to be nice and broken down, you can even color them a little bit. You add your roux, some tomato product. Use some flour to make the dark roux. Cook that down really good so it doesn’t lighten your sauce. Then you add your stock. It can be dark chicken stock, dark beef stock, anything really. Then reduce it down a little. That will give you a demi gloss. You can use that to coat steaks, pretty versatile as well.

Second to last we have the tomato. Tomato puree, you can use a light stock, a vegetable stock, chicken stock, light veal stock. Reduce that down to create your tomato sauce. You can make that to be very versatile as well. Chicken, pasta, a lot of different things.

The hollandaise is the newest one of all. You basically clarify butter, separate the fat from the milk. You whisk egg yolks over some steam with a mixing bowl and then you slowly add in your fat to that and it creates a hollandaise sauce. That is a base for béarnaise which is tarragon. You can put that over broccoli or asparagus. Another common thing is eggs benedict.

Thickening agents thicken a liquid. You use different thickening agents based upon what kind of final product you’re trying to get. The first is the roux. In a sauté pan, you cook down equal parts butter and flour. Usually a good ratio is for one quart of liquid, a total of four ounces for the roux. When you cook it, maybe even more, you have two options: light and dark. I break it down into two: blonde or light and brown or dark. For light sauces, you’ll do the light roux. For brown sauce, you’ll want to cook down that flour and roux until turns almost brown. This sauce in particular you want to use for a final product like gravy.

The second is a liaison. This one you thicken with eggs. You temper your liquid with eggs. You bring your liquid up in temperature and in a mixing bowl off to the side, you have egg yolks and you whisk those. You pour half of your hot mixture into those eggs while stirring it consistently then pour it back into the pan, bringing it back to the heat and boil, and continuously stirring.

Last but not least we have the slurry. The slurry is a thickening agent I commonly use, and you’ll find it more in Asian cooking. It’s equal parts corn starch and water. It will give you a glazy type product, so if you were to thicken a chicken stock with slurry, it will be similar to an egg drop soup or more glazy like such.

The most important thing of all when you’re using thickening agents is to know that when it reaches its thickest point is its full boil. Bring it up to a full boil and that’s when it’s at its thickest point. Now we’re going to introduce you to a series of five different videos introducing each sauce individually. So stay tuned and thanks for watching.

End Mother Sauces Video Transcript