7 Sauces You Need to Master Right Now
Master the five French mother sauces (plus a few extras) and you'll be well on your way to fixing up professional-style meals at home!
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One of the first lessons in culinary school is about the importance of the five mother sauces. Originated by chef Marie-Antoine Carême, these sauces are not only the building blocks of classic French cuisine, but they’ll give you the foundations to becoming an incredible cook, too. Used as the basis for other sauces, and topped on poultry and seafood dishes, these seven traditional sauces help make the best cuisine.
They may seem intimidating at first, but they’re all based on simple ingredients and easy techniques. Most of these sauces begin with the same foundation—a simple roux—and build from there. Others require more time and ingredients—like the traditional tomato sauce. Once you get these mother sauces down, you’ll be able to make your own secondary sauce—a sauce that adds its own seasoning and flavors to a mother sauce.
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If you’ve ever made biscuits and gravy, then you have béchamel down. It’s a rich and creamy white sauce made by combining roux (flour and butter) with milk or heavy cream. It is one of the easier sauces to make out of all the mother sauces. Béchamel sauce is used for classic sauce-filled dishes, like lasagna or chicken pot pie. It can be bland on its own, which is why it’s often heavily seasoned.
This isn’t a mother sauce, but it is a riff off the classic béchamel. Add cheese to that creamy béchamel sauce and it just became the perfect base for a comforting mac and cheese or cheesy nachos. For the smoothest texture, give your mornay a whirl in the blender (or use an immersion blender) to really incorporate all that cheese into the sauce.
This dairy-free version of béchamel is one of most underrated mother sauces. Instead of milk, this sauce combines roux with any kind of light stock—chicken, fish or vegetable. It’s infrequently used as a topping sauce, but it’s the base of many soups and sauces. You’ll definitely recognize this sauce if you’re a Swedish meatball fan.
Also known as brown sauce, this sauce begins with a dark roux, softened mirepoix vegetables (onions, carrots and celery), tomato paste and dark stock. Unlike the other sauces, this recipe results in a rich and indulgent gravy, making it best used as a starting point for a number of meaty sauces or soups instead of being directly topped onto dishes.
Take your espagnole a little bit further and you’ll have demi-glace, the richest and most flavorful mother sauce that’s often used as a restaurant chef’s secret weapon for making everything taste crazy good. Once you make your espagnole, add in an equal part of veal stock and reduce the mixture by half. It’s an incredible sauce to serve with sirloin steak—especially if you add red wine or mushrooms to the mix—or pork chops.
Unlike modern-day spaghetti sauce, the mother sauce version of tomato sauce starts with salt pork and roux. Add in fresh tomatoes, carrots, onions, bay leaves, garlic and veal stock. Then let it simmers for hours upon hours, creating a lovely, thick sauce that’s perfect for smothering pasta or meaty dishes—like this chicken cacciatore. If you’re looking to keep things gluten-free, feel free to skip the roux—just make sure you simmer long enough to thicken things up.
This fancy sauce is one of the most intimidating of the mother sauces, but we have a few tricks for making it easy. Unlike the other sauces, there is no roux involved—just an emulsion of eggs, melted butter and lemon (similar to making aioli). It’s most popular on everyone’s favorite brunch dish—eggs Benedict—but it’s also a killer vegetable topper or a substitute for mayo in potato salad.