Sauce

The 5 French Mother Sauces Every Cook Should Know

Get in formation: Béchamel! Velouté! Espagnole! Hollandaise! Tomato!

June 25, 2019

The five French mother sauces are: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato. Read on to learn how to make each one.


In the 19th century, Marie-Antoine Carême anointed Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, and tomato sauce as the building blocks for all other sauces in his work L'Art de la Cuisine Française au Dix-Neuvième Siecle. Later on, Hollandaise got added to the family. Since then, many people consider others sauces—sweet and savory from all around the world—as unofficial extended relatives of these five sauces.

Mother Sauces

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Though some will argue for the importance of chimichurri and chocolate sauce, it's a knowledge of the five French mother sauces that will prove essential. They may seem intimidating, but mother sauces will nurture your kitchen confidence. With a few simple ingredients (mostly flour, butter, and a liquid) and a couple easy techniques, these five sauces, all equally important to your cooking repertoire, serve as the starting point for a slew of other classics.

Once you get the feel for these sauces, you’ll be able to whisk them up whenever you want to get fancy. And soon enough, you'll feel confident enough to break tradition and take that Mother Sauce somewhere she’s never gone before. Here's what you need to know about the building blocks of sauces:

  

Beyond flavor, the most important element of any sauce is its ability to smother and cling to whatever it gets drizzled, dolloped, or poured on. That means making the sauce thick and stable, which is accomplished with three techniques: a roux, an emulsifier, and a reduction (liquid that's slowly cooked down until thick). 

Four out of the five mother sauces start with a roux. Roux is a fancy name for flour mixed with fat. Equal parts butter and flour get cooked over medium heat, then a liquid gets added. This mixture then boils, thickens (reduces), and becomes the base of your sauce. Just note, if you’re making a white sauce—like Béchamel or Velouté—do not brown the butter, as it will darken the finished product. The last mother sauce is a product of emulsification, which I'll explain below. 

More: Is it your first time making a roux? Here's how to do it, step by step.

Here are the basic formulas of the five mother sauces:

Béchamel: Roux + Dairy (traditionally milk or cream)
Velouté: Roux + White Stock (traditionally chicken, but also vegetable or fish)
Espagnole: Roux + Brown Stock (traditionally veal or beef)
Tomato: Roux + Tomatoes (or, go the Italian route by skipping the roux and simply reducing tomatoes over medium-low heat until thick)
Hollandaise: Egg Yolks + Clarified Melted Butter + Acid (like lemon juice or white wine)

Now that you understand the basics, let’s talk about each mother sauce in more detail (and what to pair them with):

1. Béchamel

If you’ve eaten homemade macaroni and cheese, a classic croque madame, or lasagna, chances are you’ve experienced the rich creaminess of Béchamel. It can be made in its most basic form by just combining 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.

Here are some other ways to use Béchamel:

  • Swap in Béchamel for some of the cream in a gratin.
  • Pour it over polenta cakes and broil for a few minutes until bubbly and golden brown.

Once you've mastered basic Béchamel, here's how to get more creative: Spike a classic Béchamel with soy and miso for a new take on Trent Pierce’s Miso-Creamed Kale or Nobu’s Fried Asparagus.

2. Velouté

Like good old Béchamel, Velouté begins with a white roux, but then it gets mixed with white stock made from fish, chicken, or veal. Technically not a finished sauce, it's used as a flavorful starting point for gravies, mushroom sauces (hello chicken pot pie), and shrimp sauce (hello shrimp bisque). 

Here are some other ways to use Velouté:

  • Whip up Velouté with veal stock, then use it to make Swedish Meatballs.
  • Smother biscuits with an herby gravy for breakfast.

Once you've mastered basic Velouté, here's how to get more creative: Make velouté vegetarian with a mushroom-based stock for this Vegetarian Mushroom Thyme Gravy.

3. Espagnole

Although some think blond roux have more fun, Espagnole proves that dark roux know how to party, too. Also known as brown sauce, Espagnole begins with a mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onions), beef stock, and deglazed brown bits (fond) from beef bones. From there, tomato paste and spices may be added.

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

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

Once you've mastered basic Espagnole, here's how to get more creative: Take Espagnole somewhere new by adding tamarind paste and making Dan Barber’s Braised Short Ribs.

4. Tomato

Probably the first mother sauce you ever tasted (over a heaping bowl of spaghetti), tomato sauce is often a mixture of just onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Although some traditionalists may start with a roux, most tomato sauces merely rely on a tomato reduction to build flavor and create thickness.

Here are some other ways to use tomato sauce:

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 your tomato sauce to make Lentil Cakes with Tikka Masala instead. 

5. Hollandaise

Think of Hollandaise as a fancy mayonnaise that uses clarified butter in place of oil and gets drizzled over asparagus and eggs without judgment. Instead of using a roux or a reduction, Hollandaise uses the method of emulsification: the act of using a binding agent (in this case, an egg yolk) to force two ingredients that don't mix well together (here, butter and lemon juice) to like each other immensely. Hollandaise takes patience, as you'll need to temper the mixture so that the eggs do not curdle. The sauce can break easily, but you can patch things back together by adding a little heavy cream and whisking until the sauce returns to its smooth state; or use Amanda's trick for fixing broken aioli—a close relative of Hollandaise sauce—by using the broken emulsification to start your next batch. Sound like a lot of hard work? This Fried Green Tomato Benedict makes it all worth the trouble.

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

Béarnaise is another close relative to Hollandaise. But unlike Hollandaise, which has lemon juice in it, Béarnaise is perfumed with tarragon, shallots, and white wine vinegar.

Here are some other ways to use Hollandaise:

Once you've mastered basic Hollandaise, here's how to get more creative: Let another breakfast staple enjoy the creaminess of Hollandaise with this Savory Oatmeal recipe. Or take your next Caramelized Pork Bahn Mi to new heights by replacing the mayonnaise with a Sriracha-spiked Hollandaise sauce. 

Short rib photo by Sarah Shatz; last photo by Marta Greber; all others by James Ransom. This article originally ran in February of 2015; we're re-running it now to revisit the classics—and just in case you don't know them yet.

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69 Comments

ilovetoeat July 28, 2019
Hello. I have been avoiding wheat for some time now and while I am slowly getting up to speed with gluten free baking, I have not yet come up with a way to make a nice rouix. I don't have access to arrowroot where I live (rural Mexico). Anyone already solve this one already? What thickener could I use instead of wheat flour?
 
Sheetal December 3, 2019
See if you can find fine yellow chickpea flower. You can get this in an Indian store. I grew up using it.
 
jpriddy July 19, 2019
Thank you for the detail, but really, three sauces: thickened with roux, reduction, emulsification. That covers everything from béchamel to balsamic reduction to mayonnaise.
 
Lindsay July 19, 2019
This article is fabulous. Thank you.
 
Sandra B. July 19, 2019
once I learned to make hollandaise with a stick blender ( as well as mayo), I have never looked back.
www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/04/foolproof-2-minute-hollandaise-recipe.html
 
Beth July 20, 2019
Please tell me how you do this with an immersion blender? I make mayo in my food processor, pulsing the egg and vinegar first and then slowly pouring in the oil through the little holes while it's running. Suddenly it emulsifies, it's like watching a miracle. Couldn't I make Hollendaise the same way using melted butter? I mean, does it have to be done at the stove? Standing and stirring is very hard for me, bad knees and hips.
 
Kitty P. July 19, 2019
I grew up with a grandmother whose mother was classically trained
I knew how to make all the mother sauces. We just called gravies.
 
Ellie July 16, 2019
Love the lessons on Mother Sauces. Could tell me exactly how you would make a sausage gravy for biscuits, including the seasonings. Thank you.
 
Beth July 19, 2019
Couldn't be easier. Start with loose sausage, such as Jimmy Dean, break up and brown in frypan. Then add several tablespoons of flour - the usual ratio is 2 Tbls flour to l cup milk - and stir into the sausage in the pan. Don't drain the sausage, you want the fat for flavor and to thicken the sauce. Then add milk, little by little, stirring as you go. It will thicken pretty quickly and you really don't need any other seasoning. I use whole milk for more richness, but you can use 1 or 2% if you like. As soon as it is thick enough, pour over biscuits and enjoy!
 
Lisa July 19, 2019
Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Maybe a dash of Worcestershire.
 
John B. June 29, 2019
As a French trained Saucier of 38 years, I have always considered vinaigrette to be a mother sauce; some may scoff at this but here is my experience talking: A French vinaigrette is made with mustard, shallots, sugar, oil & vinegar.A derivative of this is what is properly called a citronette---using citrus juice, ie, blood orange, grapefruit, pommelo, orange, lemon, or lime juice in place of vinegar. I make a Japanese version with tamari, yuzo citrus juice, garlic, sesame oil( sparingly), peanut oil and ginger. All vinaigrette can quickly be used as a marinade or as a drizzle sauce atop brochettes/kabobs, grilled meats...try herbes de Provence and red wine to flavor succulent grilled steaks and pork loin/tenderloin. Add vermouth and fresh chiffonade of basil for grilled seafood & chicken breasts. Add mayonnaise to a vinaigrette for unctous potato salad or shrimp salad. In place of mayonnaise make tuna fish or egg salad. Use your imagination with vinaigrette/citronnete sauce & come up with variable and healthy taste sensations.
God bless all
 
Rosalind P. July 19, 2019
Sugar. In my experience, no sugar -- ever -- in classic vinaigrette. And IMO unless you're deliberately going for a sweet dressing, it doesn't belong in any savory salad. An easy way to cut back on something that has become all too thoughtlessly included in so many products. IMO.
 
Sheetal December 3, 2019
Agree, completely
 
Ola K. December 11, 2018
That is one great comprehensive text on what sauce is all about!
 
Sangoachau June 12, 2017
Sàn gỗ á châu chuyên cung cấp và thi công sàn gỗ tự nhiên sàn gỗ nhân tạo.
https://sangoachau.com/
 
Michaela May 31, 2017
Thanks! I can't wait to learn all these sauces! I'm inspired!
 
thien9x May 20, 2017
chung toi cung cap dich vu sua chua dieu hoa tai hai duong tai hai duong tai website : http://suadieuhoahaiduong.com/
 
thien9x May 14, 2017
Ứng dụng nhắn tin miễn phí cho điện thoại di dộng. Hướng dẫn tài và cài đặt nhanh chóng tại website : http://taimessenger.com/
 
JR E. January 15, 2017
SUCH a great article, thank you for posting. But, I wonder: here in the south most of my fat based rouxs start with bacon grease, not butter. Obviously, unless making a bechamell. But even even my Louisiana kin don't start a roux with butter, it would be shortening. We're still doing the same thing right? We just can't technically call it the same?
 
Baroness March 4, 2019
A classic Roux, being French by birth, :) ALWAYS begins with butter---unsalted butter is best. While you can certainly create a Roux using almost any fat, it will definitely influence whatever you're putting it on/in & could be heavier than you might like. There are 3 types of Roux: White, Blond, Brown. One certainly can use meat fat for a Brown Roux with a rich, hearty result. Provincial/country cooking often employs bacon fat for a Roux. There are plenty of recipes where even lard is used. The determining factor will be what you're doing with the sauce you're making, whether biscuit gravy or a Roux 'starter' for 4 of the 5 Mother Sauces which begin with a Roux. You can absolutely call it a "Roux" if it begins with fat or butter! TIP: Use pastry or cake flour, which have a higher starch content & will help your Roux have a happily thick beginning. Also, only use cold or room temp stock/liquid to make your Roux; using hot liquid will invariably cause lumps which are time-consuming to get out; in fact, you may not be able to get them all out. Hoping this helps a wee bit. Happy Cooking~ :)
 
Steven P. October 29, 2019
Catherine de Medici, 1547 Queen of France, Italian

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_de%27_Medici
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I was gifted the book (link below) which covered a bit about her and some other killer, persons of history.
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https://www.amazon.com/Sprezzatura-Italian-Genius-Shaped-World/dp/038572019X/ref=asc_df_038572019X/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=312028586631&hvpos=1o1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=15763562074899237097&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9028903&hvtargid=pla-334090922855&psc=1
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Countries are not static populaces, nor did they all keep their borders closed. French cooking is more of right place right time, and the right influences of culture. All compounds are comprised of multiple elements. Cooking is a permutation process that just happened to be the perfect variables via observation/chance/experimentation in that this revision. Innate science done by many, made French cooking, it may have been born and refined in France, but that does not denote its ownership. Nor does it give credit to the compounded experience from the caveman cooking meat on a fire to the first roux....

There is an innumerable amount of feats that allowed for a: spoon to stir a pan that was at a 400 degrees on the fire, that happened to have equal parts butter and flour.

Most things are as such, glory for the most recent plateau while we forget those before.....
 
Dilan September 22, 2016
Good help bro
 
Sophia H. September 4, 2016
I love making Hollandaise, but I am lazy and never clarify my butter, I mix the egg yolks and lemon together place the bowl over simmering water and drop pieces of cold butter wishing until melted, then repeating until all added. Maybe it is not considered hollandaise, but who cares it works for me. I love making leftover risotto to make stuffed peppers then poor left over sauce and bake them together.
 
Connie H. February 22, 2017
When clarified butter is called for I always try to use "ghee" - buy a good quality at Whole Foods & keep it (unrfrigerated) next to your cook top. It's awesome!
 
Jaye B. July 21, 2019
Walmart sells grass fed ghee.
 
Fiona S. March 29, 2016
Calm down people ! hehe. These sauces are French, while training to be a chef you need to learn French tradition first. What cuisines a qualified chef chooses to create is individual and exciting.
 
Aarati A. May 20, 2016
French cuisine was only able to become the staple of culinary education because we still live in a world dominated by the west. French cuisine is amazing, but don't be so naive about the politics of food! Every ingredient has its history. Its part of what makes cooking so interesting.
 
scott.finkelstein.5 July 20, 2016
The French aren't the only ones to have developed the roux, puree, and emulsion methods of thickening. They actually occur in pretty much every cuisine, and the French specifically learned them from Italy. It also leaves out starch and gelatin thickened sauces popular worldwide.

Really, the mother sauces should be roux-thickened (bechamel, veloute), manual emulsions (mayo, hollandaise), boiled vegetables and purees (tomato, caramelized onions), natural emulsions (cream), gelatin (pan sauces), and starches (all the glossy/gloopy stuff using corn starch).
 
FoodFanaticToo March 28, 2016
great resource for my young adult kids! thank you very much :)
 
ChefWannaBe January 17, 2016
Yet to finish the movie though but also please watch CHEF the movie, all about passion and loving what you do! Salute to our 5 Mother Sauces!!!
 
k.k M. December 1, 2015
I enjoyed the summary and brief recipes of creating the sauces - But a bit arrogant to say that "many people consider others sauces -- sweet and savory from all around the world -- as unofficial extended relatives of these five sauces," no? Around Europe and some of their former colonies perhaps. But the world is a very big and diverse place. I doubt that many countries in East Asia, South Asia, the Middle-East would find similarities between much of their sauce recipe book with this. Simply different histories, available ingredients and means of using sauce
 
Aarati A. March 29, 2016
Completely agree. Was about to say something similar. I'm sure the writer is white, and sees the west as the 'default.' I think these sauces are amazing and I'm totally going to try making them, but I'm Indian and I think the notion that Western flavors are the basis of mine is ridiculous! I would stick to labeling these as staple sauces in European cooking.
 
Richard R. July 14, 2016
Here's a tip..read not only the words..but the author's intent with the goal of understanding what the author is saying. The topic as stated at the very top of the page is..French Cooking. These are, no matter how much you may be offended by all things "western" or Occidental..the 5 mother sauces if French cooking. What the author said was ( get the hate out of your eyes and you'll be able to read better ) other parts of the world might consider other sauces as also fundamental ones and therefor "mother sauces". She did not say the rest of the world's cuisine was slave to or colonized by France..the hatred in your eyes saw that. But it was not there.
 
Richard R. July 14, 2016
Why are you here Aarati? If you have to make stuff up..then beat it down..why be here? You say you are "sure the writer is White"..but you really don't know. You surmise ( for the author ) that she feels the west is a default..but the author does not say anything like that. You do.

What the author said..under the title of "French Cooking" was these are the 5 mother sauces in French Cooking. She made the mistake, it seems, of acknowledge that other great sauces can be found around the world that may be just as fundamental to cooking as these. She did not insult other parts of the world at all. You did. As well as your buddy K.K.
Try this..go to a South Asian cooking site and spend the day. Take KK with you and spew your contempt for the Western World there. This is a French Cooking site and as much as it may offend you..they talk about French Cooking in it.
 
scott.finkelstein.5 July 20, 2016
I'd say the technique categories would still carry over, although Indian cooking would likely have three vegetable-based sauces (tomato being the lone French example) and only one roux-based.
 
Francine July 19, 2019
To Richard R. YOU nailed it!!! BRAVO It is all about French Cooking. To narrow minded Aarati A. and k.k.M please re-read this article to clearly see it is about FRENCH CUISINE ….. Aarati, you are definitely Racist and this western society do not need more racist like you!
 
Karen B. July 3, 2015
Don't forget that adding white wine, shallots & taragon to a classic Hollandaise for a oh so good Bernaise sauce!