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French Mother Sauces: The Taxonomy of Taste
Most sauces, especially French ones, can be traced back to one of five bases known as the mother sauces. Here’s some insight into what makes up these fundamental ingredients.
A French dish without a sauce is like Frankenstein’s monster without a bolt of lighting to give it life. For centuries, even the most intricate French cuisine has stemmed from a foundation formed by the five mother sauces: béchamel, velouté, espagnole, tomate, and hollandaise. The sauces earned the “mother” moniker because each sauce can be further adapted to create different “child” sauces. Each possesses its own unique flavor profile and texture to serve different types of dishes.
Béchamel: from a base of milk thickened with a white roux, béchamel forms a rich texture that can become a variety of cream or cheese sauces such as mornay.
Velouté: velouté is similar to béchamel, trading milk for veal, chicken, or fish stock to create a savory, velvety complement to proteins. Velouté has several families of child sauces that derive from veal-, chicken-, or fish-stock base.
Espagnole: although it’s rarely served in its basic form, this brown sauce made from veal stock thickened with flour has more child sauces than any other, from demi-glace to bordelaise to onion sauce.
Tomate: this sauce begins with a base of fresh, ripe tomatoes thickened with a roux. This roux is what differentiates the French tomate sauce from Italian sauces. Depending on how it’s seasoned, the tomate sauce can form the basis of Creole, Spanish, or Portuguese sauces.
Hollandaise: hollandaise is an emulsion of egg yolks and clarified butter. It’s also a hot emulsion, which differentiates hollandaise from mayonnaise—a cold emulsion of egg yolks, oil, and a plastic jar.