Every chef worth his salt and every budding cook should be familiar with what we refer to as the Five Mother Sauces. This roots back to French cooking and is influential the world over. From these basic sauces we create plenty of others ranging from the familiar to the exotic. Study these closely and broaden your cooking horizons so you may impress your friends and family.
Before we begin, many of these are roux-based. We must first conquer the roux. This is basically equal parts flour to oil. Though the oil may differ, most of these sauces come from a roux made of butter. The flour is added to the butter and is stirred constantly over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Brown roux is simply cooked longer. It’s really easy, though often tedious. We are not delving into popular oven roux for gumbo, nor are we discussing microwave roux period. Hang on to that skillet. Now let’s create some sauces.
One of the simpler sauces, Béchamel is a mixture of blond roux and milk. I would say about a cup of milk for a tablespoon of butter and tablespoon of flour. This is the beginning of that homemade mac and cheese sauce recipe. Simply add your choice of cheese. For a cream sauce add cream and a squirt of lemon. For Mornay substitute Gruyere for the lemon but keep the cream. A little extra butter, cream paprika and diced shellfish turns bechamel into a Nantua sauce. Cook some onions and puree or strain after simmering in the béchamel and you will have a nice soubise.
Veloute differs from béchamel by adding stock instead of milk. The stock you use depends upon the sauce you wish to end up serving. Supreme sauce may get the name from its many uses. Chicken stock is the base of the veloute adding cream and often mushrooms. This is something I use often in things like pot pie. For allemande veal stock is the base with cream, lemon, and tempered egg yolk. Dress up an allemande with tomato paste and butter for a sauce known as aurora. Bercy is another oft used sauce of mine created with fish stock, shallots or onion, white wine and butter. Cardinal could refer to the red cayenne pepper that goes in fish stock with cream and lobster.
This is close to veloute with the difference being the roux and the stock must be brown. You’ll find this in Chateaubriand with white wine, shallots, lemon and tarragon. Duxelle is a mushroom sauce with tomato, onion, and white wine, but if you use shallots it’s called Chausser. Red wine, shallots, thyme and a bay leaf make up a bordelaise sauce. Robert sauce (aka Holbert sauce) should not exist, but does. It’s made of onion, mustard, sugar and butter.
One of the most popular, you usually buy this in a can and dress it up. Simply pureed tomatoes (often with other vegetables) tomato sauce changes with latitude and longitude. Creole (as in shrimp creole) uses the trinity (bell pepper, onion, celery) with garlic and seasonings to knock you out. Make it Spanish by adding mushrooms and olives. Milanaise is a favorite of mine with butter and ham alongside mushrooms. Neapolitan combines my beloved anchovies with capers, olives and garlic. Bolognese begins with mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery) loaded with ground meat and a bit of red wine.
I remember my first one. I nailed it. You have to have a double boiler for this or you’ll scramble the eggs. Melt butter and temper in egg yolk one at a time. I usually use four yolks to a stick of butter. My target for this sauce is usually a steak or asparagus so I often create Bearnaise. Shallots and tarragon are a must, and I use champagne vinegar. If you add heavy cream and tomato puree to Bearnaise you will get Choron. Grimrod is a funny way of saying, “add saffron to hollandaise.” For Mousselin simple whipped cream is added. Don’t forget the citrus flavor of Maltaise. That’s orange juice and zest.
The best part about learning the definitions of these sauces is the knowledge it gives you when you are ordering food. Many menus list dishes with names that are descriptions. At the very least you should know what to expect at a glance.
The best part about learning to execute these sauces is that it gets you out of your culinary comfort zone. You may be asking yourself if I’ve made all of these sauces. To be honest, no. But I have gone through many of them, some just to see what it would taste like, others for a common application.
Being the home cook that I am I do not always have the time to gamble on the success of different sauces. I like to pick one I am unfamiliar with and figure out its intended use. From there I try to get creative.
I hope this helps you understand the culinary process a bit better, but do your best to make something of your own.