Culinary Arts

The 5 French Mother Sauces: Learn About Béchamel, Velouté, Sauce Espagnole, Sauce Tomat, and Hollandaise Sauce

Written by MasterClass

Jun 3, 2019 • 7 min read

Whether it’s glazed over a steak, spooned over fresh pasta, or mixed into a soup—we’ve all had a taste of the French mother sauces. The right sauce can elevate any dish—providing textural contrast, balancing flavors, or adding extra seasoning. Master each of the five mother sauces and you’ll have the building blocks to make countless others.

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What Is a French Mother Sauce?

The term “mother sauces” dates back to the early nineteenth century when French chef Marie-Antoine Carême organized sauces into four categories known as the four grand sauces of French cuisine. The 5 mother sauces include:

  1. Béchamel sauce
  2. Velouté sauce
  3. Espagnole sauce
  4. Sauce Tomat
  5. Hollandaise sauce

Later in the early twentieth century, Auguste Escoffier refined the list in his book Le Guide Culinaire and added an additional sauce—leaving us with the five “mother sauces” that guide cooks in kitchens and culinary schools around the world.

A mother sauce is a base liquid combined with a thickening agent and additional ingredients for flavor. Besides Hollandaise, which is thickened with egg yolks, all of the mother sauces start with a roux as their thickening agent. Once you’ve made a mother sauce, you can use it as a starting point for a myriad of other sauces. For example, one of the simplest mother sauces, béchamel, is made of milk and a roux of flour and butter, to which you can add grated cheese and transforms it into a Mornay sauce. By learning the basics of each mother sauce, you’ll be on your way to making your own delicious derivatives.

What Is a Roux and Why Is it Important?

Roux is a classic thickening agent made by cooking equal parts flour and fat together until the raw flour cooks out and the roux has achieved a brownish color. It works as a thickener for sauces and stews, but also provides a silky-smooth texture and subtle toasty flavor to dishes.

What Is Béchamel?

Béchamel is a versatile white sauce, and the base of a variety of comfort food dishes. It’s simple and easy to master, made with only a few ingredients: butter, milk and flour (for a white roux), eggs, and salt. Roux is gradually whisked with milk and cooked with egg yolks added at the end—transforming the mixture it into a smooth and creamy sauce that clings to the back of a spoon. Béchamel sauce can be used alone smeared onto sandwich bread for a croque monsieur, as a base for scalloped potatoes, or used in the filling of a chicken pot pie.

Sauces that can be made from it:

  • Aurora sauce: Tomato puree added to a basic béchamel sauce.
  • Mornay sauce: Béchamel sauce with shredded or grated Gruyère cheese added.
  • Nantua sauce: Cream, crayfish butter, and crayfish butter added to béchamel sauce.
  • Soubisse sauce: Sautéed onions added to a basic béchamel sauce.

Try serving béchamel sauce, or one of its derivative sauces, with one of these dishes:

  • Chef Wolfgang Puck’s Mac and Cheese. Chef Puck transforms his béchamel into a Mornay cheese sauce by adding cheddar and mozzarella cheese, which becomes the base for this macaroni and cheese.
  • Chef Wolfgang Puck’s Creamed Spinach. Béchamel also provides the foundation of one of Wolfgang’s favorite childhood meals: creamed spinach topped with a fried egg.
  • Baked rigatoni
  • Layered with ragu between sheets of fresh pasta for a lasagna bolognese
  • The cream sauce atop a croque monsieur

What Is Velouté?

A velouté sauce features a white stock thickened with a blond roux, resulting in a velvety, smooth texture. While the most common type of velouté uses chicken stock as a base, you can make it with fish stock or veal stock, depending on the protein in your final dish. Velouté sauce works well when served over dish or poultry that has been delicately cooked, either by poaching or steaming. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice can lighten it up, adding an acidic tang to seafood dishes, or a dash of heavy cream can transform into a sauce suprême.

Sauces that can be made from it:

  • Sauce Suprême: A classic French sauce made by finishing a velouté with cream, butter, and lemon juice. Sauce suprême is known as a secondary mother sauce because it can be served on its own or as a base for other sauce recipes.
  • Albufera sauce: After pan-searing a cut of meat and deglazing the pan, the juices are added to a velouté to make an Albufera pan sauce.
  • Allemande sauce: A velouté thickened with egg yolks, heavy cream, and seasoned with lemon juice.
  • Normande sauce: A chicken velouté or fish velouté thickened with heavy cream, butter, and egg yolk. Primarily served with seafood.

Try serving velouté sauce, or one of its derivative sauces, with one of these dishes:

  • Sauce suprême (made from chicken velouté) with poached or steamed chicken
  • Normande sauce with a fillet of fish
  • Allemande sauce with crispy veal scaloppine

What Is Sauce Espangole?

Sauce espagnole is a basic brown sauce that originated in Spain in the late nineteenth century. It was later popularized by chef Auguste Escoffier and became one of the five French mother sauces we still use today. It is a brown roux, to which veal stock and tomatoes are added and simmered until reduced. It serves as a starting point for rich, beefy sauces, such as a demi-glace, and is often served with red meat in French cuisine.

Sauces that can be made from it:

  • Demi-Glace: A rich brown sauce that combines one part espagnole sauce with one part stock, and is finished with sherry wine.
  • Chasseur Sauce: Sautéed mushrooms, shallots, and white wine reduction simmered in demi-glace.
  • Sauce Africaine: Espagnole sauce flavored with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and herbs.
  • Sauce Bigarade: Espagnole sauce with duck drippings, flavored with orange and lemon juice.
  • Sauce Bourguignonne: Espagnole sauce with red wine, shallots, and bouquet garni.
  • Marchand de Vin Sauce (Red Wine Reduction): Classic French steak sauce with reduced red wine, chopped shallots simmered in demi-glace.
  • Charcutière Sauce: Onions, mustard, white wine, and chopped cornichons, simmered in demi-glace.
  • Lyonnaise Sauce: Onions and white wine vinegar simmered in demi-glace.
  • Bercy Sauce: Reduced white wine with shallots, simmered in demi-glace.
  • Mushroom Sauce: A classic sauce made with sautéed mushrooms, shallots, and a splash of sherry, simmered in demi-glace.
  • Madeira Sauce: Demi-glace that’s enriched with Madeira wine.
  • Port Wine Sauce: Port wine added to a demi-glace.

Try serving espagnole sauce, or one of its derivative sauces, with one of these dishes:

What Is Sauce Tomat?

Sauce tomat is made by cooking tomatoes in a base of pork fat, aromatics, and stock until it reduces into a thick sauce. Traditionally, it was further thickened with a roux, but modern adaptations often skip this step. One thing that separates sauce tomat from the rest is its use of pork. Rendered over low heat, the fat is used to sauté aromatic vegetables to make a flavorful base, then a lengthy cooking time is added to turn whole tomatoes into a rich, complex sauce. Sauce tomat can be served simply over pasta, spread over pizza dough, or as a flavorful base to simmer proteins like eggs and fish.

Sauces that can be made from sauce tomat:

  • Portuguese sauce: A sauce of sautéed onions, chopped tomatoes, and cloves of garlic that's finished with chopped fresh parsley.
  • Spanish sauce: A spicier sauce of sautéed onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and garlic.
  • Creole sauce: A sauce of sautéed onions, celery, green peppers, bay leaf, thyme, red pepper, and garlic.

Try serving sauce tomat, or one of its derivative sauces, with one of these dishes:

  • Pasta sauce with Parmesan cheese
  • Shakshuka eggs with spiced tomato sauce
  • Cod poached in tomato sauce
  • Dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks

What Is Hollandaise Sauce?

Hollandaise sauce is an egg yolk mixture emulsified with unsalted butter and an acid, like fresh lemon juice or vinegar. It’s a delicate sauce that is pale yellow in color, smooth, and creamy. Hollandaise can be used to make a range of other sauces or served on its own as a finishing sauce for eggs Benedict, poached fish, and asparagus.

Sauces that can be made from it:

  • Béarnaise: Made of clarified butter emulsified in eggs yolks and white wine vinegar, flavored with tarragon.
  • Choron: Tomato paste added to basic Béarnaise sauce.
  • Maltaise: Blood orange juice blended with hollandaise sauce.
  • Foyot: A variation of Béarnaise sauce with meat glaze added (glace de viande).
  • Paloise: Uses mint instead of tarragon in Béarnaise sauce.
  • Mousseline: Whipped cream gently folded into hollandaise sauce.

Try serving hollandaise sauce, or one of its derivative sauces, with one of these dishes:

  • Hollandaise on blanched asparagus
  • Béarnaise in eggs benedict
  • Béarnaise mousseline with steak and brussels sprouts

Learn more about making stocks and sauces in Chef Thomas Keller’s MasterClass.