Classic French cooking techniques shouldn’t intimidate the everyday cook. French cuisine is world renowned and therefore might seem like a monumental task to take on in the kitchen, but learning the basics can make cooking a fine meal easy as pie. There are five French mother sauces, and learning how to make each of them will have you feeling like a professional chef in no time.
History of French mother sauces
Originally, there were four basic French mother sauces developed by Antonin Careme in the 19th century. Careme created a myriad of signature sauces, but the base came down to four main recipes, hence the name mother sauce. These four sauces are Sauce Tomat, Bechamel, Veloute and Espagnole. Careme is considered one of the godfathers of haute cuisine. In the early 20th century, renowned chef Auguste Escoffier added Hollandaise, the fifth mother sauce. Escoffier’s recipe books boasted hundreds of daughter sauces as well. He in many ways modernized French cooking, and his legendary career as a chef, restaurateur and food writer transformed him into a culinary icon.
What is sauce?
Okay, so we might all be able to identify a sauce when we see it, but let’s delve into a more technical definition. A sauce is a liquid with the addition of a thickening agent and other flavors, such as herbs and spices. Making a great sauce then depends on developing a strong flavor profile and the right consistency. Giving your sauce the right density relies on the thickening agent.
Roux (pronounced roo) is the thickening agent used in three of the five French mother sauces: Espagnole, Bechamel and Veloute. The roux is cooked for a different amount of time for each sauce to vary the color. Roux is made from equal parts fat and flour by weight, traditionally calling for clarified butter as the fat in French cuisine. The fat is heated until it is a frothy liquid, then the flour is stirred in to create a thick paste. A white roux is used for Bechamel sauce, and this variation requires the shortest cooking time. As roux is cooked for longer periods of time, it goes from white to gold to brown. When using brown roux in a dark sauce, cook the paste slowly over low heat so it doesn’t burn. Remember when waiting for your roux to brown that it might take longer to make your sauce, so plan your meal accordingly.