Whether cold, warm or hot, sauces are the soul of our dishes! They can be used as an accompaniment or as part of the cooking process of a recipe, especially for braised, stewed or stewed dishes. More or less thick and creamy, simple or elaborate, they add a touch of flavor to raw or cooked dishes.

French cuisine has an important tradition linked to sauces, whose origins date back to the Middle Ages, when they were used to preserve and improve the taste of meat and fish. We will have to wait until the 18the century to have a first classification of basic sauces and their derivatives, made by Antonin Lent and then resumed by Auguste Escoffier at the beginning of the 19e century, who codified the recipes in his famous Culinary Guide.

According to this classification, there are 5 mother sauces, also called large sauces or head sauces. It is basic preparations used as a starting point to make many other derived sauces, also say secondary sauces or small sauces. Do you know what mother sauces are? And what are the most used sauces in the French tradition?

The five mother sauces of French cuisine are the bechamel sauce, the velouté, the hollandaise sauce, the tomato sauce and the Spanish sauce. Here is everything you need to know about these sauces, their composition and their uses in cooking.

bechamel sauce

Béchamel sauce is prepared with three main ingredients: milk, flour and butter. It is made by thickening hot milk with a white roux and can be flavored with nutmeg or other spices, depending on individual preference. Click here to discover the recipe.
Creamy and coating, its consistency can be adjusted to be more or less thick. This sauce is used in several recipes, to enrich gratins, lasagna, endives with ham or croque-monsieur.

The spanish sauce

The Spanish sauce, also called brown sauce, is a sauce made from a brown roux or cooking stock, to which is added tomato and a mirepoix of carrots, onions, thyme and bay leaf. This basic sauce is used in making demi-glace and other derived sauces, such as Bordeaux sauce or Madeira sauce. Click here to find out how to make it at home.

Tomato sauce

Tomato sauce is one of the basic red sauces. It is made from quality tomatoes, cooked in a garnish of aromatic vegetables, with the addition of water or meat stock. Simmered over low heat for hours, this dense and tasty sauce is used as a base to make other derived sauces such as Provencal sauce or Portuguese sauce.

The velvety sauce

The velvety sauce is made with 3 simple ingredients: butter, white flour and white stock. Its preparation resembles that of bechamel sauce, but the velouté is made from a roux where the white stock replaces the milk. This sauce is often served to accompany fish dishes, pasta or steamed vegetables. It is the basis for making many other sauces, such as German sauce, supreme sauce and Norman sauce.

Hollandaise sauce

Hollandaise sauce consists of a hot emulsion made from butter and lemon juice, to which egg yolks are added. To discover the complete recipe for this delicious sauce, click here.

Tangy, gourmet and creamy, it is traditionally used to coat eggs Benedict, but it also accompanies seafood and vegetables. Hollandaise sauce is used as a base for making other derived sauces such as Béarnaise sauce or Maltese sauce.

Other French sauces

These five mother sauces are therefore the basis for making other derived sauces widely used in French cuisine. Here are a few.

German sauce, also called Parisian sauce, is derived from the velvety white sauce, thickened with cream and egg yolks and enriched with cooked mushrooms and lemon juice. Here is the recipe for making it at home.

The supreme sauce is a velvety sauce reduced with fresh cream and whipped with butter. This sauce usually accompanies poultry or fish dishes.

Bercy sauce is used for fish and prepared with a cooked meat or fish stock, deglazed with white wine and shallots and mounted in butter.

Bordeaux saucefrom the Bordeaux region as its name suggests, is made with red wine, shallots, marrow bones, thyme, pepper, beef broth and demi-glace sauce. Click here to discover the recipe.

The gribiche sauce is a cold sauce of French origin derived from mayonnaise, with the addition of gherkins, capers and several aromatic herbs. For the recipe, it’s here.

Bearnaise sauce is an emulsified and hot sauce, derived from Hollandaise sauce, made with clarified butter, egg yolk, shallot, tarragon and chervil. It is traditionally served with meat dishes. Here is the full recipe.

The most used sauces in the world

These French sauces are used and known all over the world. But beyond the culinary borders of France, it is possible to find other traditional sauces that envelop dishes belonging to other culinary traditions. Here is a small overview of the most used sauces in different gastronomic cultures around the world.

Teriyaki sauce is one of the most used condiments in Japanese cuisine. It is a soy sauce enriched with mirin, sweet and thick, used to marinate meat and fish, before grilling them.

Mole sauce, typical of Mexican cuisine and dating back to pre-Columbian times, it is a complex and rich sauce, made with well 22 different ingredients, a mixture of herbs, spices, chocolate and butter. Click here to find out how to make it at home.

BBQ sauce was born in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Made with tomato sauce, vinegar, spices, honey and chilli, it traditionally accompanies meats cooked on the bbq.

satay sauce, with its sweet and sour taste, is typical of the cuisines of Southeast Asian countries, with which it accompanies some traditional dishes. Creamy and tasty, it is made with peanuts, soy sauce, spices, ginger and garlic.

Cumberland sauce, originally from Great Britain, was created in honor of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. It is a hot sauce made from port, citrus juice, spices, mustard and redcurrant jelly and traditionally served with game or cold meats.

Also find out how to prepare nantua sauce and mornay sauce.

Read also: How to thicken a sauce?

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