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French Mother Sauces

Get to Know the 5 French Mother Sauces

Ever heard of the five French mother sauces? Originally classified by Marie Antoine-Carême in the 19th century and later updated by Auguste Escoffier in the 20th century, the sauces include béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato. Most other French sauces find their origins in these five types, hence the term "mother." Here's a brief rundown on the ingredients of each sauce, plus common pairings:

  • Béchamel. This classic milk-based white sauce was named after Louis de Béchameil, chief steward to Louis XIV. It's composed of three main ingredients: flour, butter, and milk. The thickness of this cream sauce depends on the ratio of flour and butter to milk: the more milk, the thinner the sauce. It's sometimes served with eggs, fish, steamed veggies, or poultry and is a major component of many creamy pasta dishes, like macaroni and cheese or lasagna.
  • Velouté. This sauce is made just like béchamel, only milk is swapped for stock. Whether it's made from chicken, veal, or fish stock, velouté is typically not flavored with extra seasonings, and it's regularly used on veal, eggs, fish, steamed vegetables, poultry, or pastas.
  • Hollandaise. Egg yolks and fat, usually clarified butter, are the basic ingredients for this emulsified sauce. A key component of eggs benedict and eggs florentine, it's also often served drizzled over vegetables (asparagus is common), eggs, light poultry, or fish.
  • Espagnole. A brown stock-based sauce that may sound Spanish but is actually French in origin. Espagnole includes rich meat stock, browned vegetables, browned roux (a butter and flour mix), plus herbs and tomato paste. Unlike velouté, though, it's served mainly with roasted meats.
  • Tomato. Whether it's made with raw, stewed tomatoes or a tomato paste, tomato-based sauce is generally served with pasta, fish, vegetables, veal, poultry, breads, or dumplings.

This list is still up for contention today, as others believe that different sauces (like allemande, the egg-enriched velouté sauce, and vinaigrette) belong in the category of "mother sauce."

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