Staple Sauces

Essential Guide To Mother Sauces


One of the first steps to upping the ante in your kitchen is learning how both recipes and techniques are built upon basic foundations. Mastering those foundations opens up entire worlds of flavour possibilities that, when you aren’t in the know, seem incredibly complex. The best thing about the foundations is that they are simple. They are designed to be memorable and easy to adapt. When it comes to sauces, all complex elaborations can be traced back to five very basic sauce recipes, which everyone—and we do mean everyone—can learn, use, and make their very own. The Mother Sauces, as they’re called, are bases.


Much like pasta sauce, the base of this particular incarnation is the tomato. It does require a bit more effort than a pasta sauce, but its applications are numerous, far beyond the pasta and pizza world. With it, you can create various types of sauces, including: Spanish Sauce, Provencale Sauce, Portuguese Sauce, and Creole Sauce. It is ideal for seafood, pastoral dishes involving lamb or game, as well as general chicken or beef dishes. It can be used with rice or pasta.

To make it requires a bit of effort, but it is entirely worth it. First, render salt pork with aromatic vegetables—onions, carrots, and celery. Then, add tomatoes, meat stock, and a ham bone. This will need to simmer for a couple of hours, but you can pop it in the oven. That helps to heat the sauce evenly and keep it from scorching. While some old-style recipes will call for a roux to thicken it, we’ve discovered that the tomatoes contain enough pectin to thicken the sauce adequately without adding more steps.


While a relatively simple process of thickening a “white” stock with roux, then simmering until thickened, the respective types of this Mother Sauce give way to their own secondary mother sauce types. It can be made with chicken, veal, or fish stock. Add egg yolks and cream to a veal volute and you have an Allemende Sauce. Fish veloute with heavy cream and white wine becomes the White Wine Sauce popular for seafood dishes of many varieties. Chicken veloute with cream is known as a Suprême Sauce.

You can make “small” sauces directly from a variation of the Mother Sauce or from any of the secondary sauces. These include: Normandy Sauce, Aurora Sauce, Mushroom Sauce, Herb Seafood Sauce, Shrimp Sauce, Poulette Sauce, Hungarian Sauce, and Bercy Sauce. These sauces, depending on their stock component are suitable for fish, chicken, or veal dishes of an astounding variety.


This is the simplest of the Mother Sauces, and is also known as “white sauce” from which many cream sauces are made. It doesn’t require you to make stock, and can be whipped together with flour, milk, and butter, with a few other seasonings. Hot milk is thickened with a white roux of butter and flour, then flavoured with nutmeg, cloves, and onion. This is typically used by itself or as a base for baked pasta dishes that can include red meat, chicken, pork, or seafood. The “small sauces” you can make with it include: Crème, Mornay, Soubise, Nantua, Cheddar Cheese, and Mustard Sauce.


Also known as Brown Sauce, it’s similar to veloute, but is made using tomato puree and mirepoix to effect the deeper colour and flavour. Another difference is that the brown stock is based on bones that have been roasted first in order to heighten the aforementioned colour and flavour. Another small complexity related to this basic sauce is the reduction phase required to produce a demi-glace.

This takes a bit of time and attention, but is essentially combining half Espagnole with half brown broth and then effecting a process of evaporation of half the liquid to create a richer, deeper flavour. Though of course, you could make the small basic sauces directly from the unreduced Espagnole, you could regard making your first demi-glace as a kitchen adventure. The small sauces that can be made directly or by using the reduction step include: Carcutière, Bercy (yes, you’ve seen that before), Lyonnaise, Robert, Port Wine, Mushroom, Chasseur, Marchand de Vin, and Madeira Sauce. These typically compliment sausage, pork, beef, veal, and game meats, but can also be used with game fowl in certain applications.


While it’s unlike the other Mothe Sauces, it’s a very simple preparation. It’s made by whisking clarified butter—butter with the solids removed—into warm egg yolks, which makes it a stable emulsified sauce. While it’s delicious on eggs, vegetables, and seafood, the small sauces made from it can be used for poultry, seafood, and vegetarian dishes of many sorts. They include: Foyot, Charon, Mousseline, Maltaise, Dijon, and Béarnaise Sauce.

We hope you’ll investigate all the possibilities that making these Mother Sauces and their derivative incarnations can present. Even adding one or two of the more simply derived Mother Sauces to your repetoire will immensely enhance your confidence and your daring in the kitchen. You’ll amaze family and friends with delicious and relatively easy to prepare meals, jazz up old favourites, and save an enormous amount of money on date night, because you took on the role of chef for the evening.

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