Classical, or French, cuisine defines a set of basic sauces called the five mother sauces, or in French, Sauces Grandes (grand sauces). These five basic sauces are used all over professional kitchens either on their own or as a base ingredient for more elaborate sauces. The five basic sauces do not include a set of sauces called pan sauces which I’m also going to include in this article. Pan sauces are delicious and easy to make sauces that utilize a raw material that most people simply throw away while cooking without ever realizing what can be done with it. The mother sauces in French cuisines were formally defined by two great French chefs, the earlier one, Antonin Carême, is best known for creating an extensive recipe list of sauces in the early 19th century. Towards the end of the century, his countryman Auguste Escoffier consolidated Carême’s list of classical sauces into the five mother sauces that we know today. Here’s a list of all the mother sauces with the easier-to-make sauces at the beginning:
Sauce Velouté, white stock based sauce, thickened with a blond roux. Sauce Béchamel, milk based sauce, thickened with a white roux. Sauce Tomate, tomato based sauce. Sauce Espagnole, a fortified brown stock sauce, often using veal or beef stock. Sauce Hollandaise, an emulsion of egg yolk, butter and lemon.
There are a few terms in there that need clarification. First, three of these sauces use stock. To make a good sauce you really either need to buy top quality stock or (much cheaper) make it yourself. There’s no getting around this, using cheap store bought stock or worse, bullion, will result in a bland, disappointing sauce. mangonada
The other ingredient mentioned is roux. Roux is a French word (pronounced “roo”), that is simply a 1-to-1 of fat (such as butter, lard, vegetable oil etc.) and flour by weight. For a typical sauce that amounts to 3 table spoons of butter and 5 table spoons of flour. Roux is an interesting ingredient; it comes in several different variations and has different names based on how long you cook the flour and the fat together. Cooking it for a very short amount of time (around a minute) yields white roux, then blond roux (3 minutes or so), peanut-butter roux, brown roux and finally chocolate roux. The longer a roux is cooked, the less of a thickening power it has.
Here’s a recipe for Velouté sauce, the simplest of the mother sauces:
1) Put 3 table spoons of butter (40 grams) into a small sauce pan on medium heat and let it melt.
2) Add 5 table spoons (40 grams) of flour into the pan and whisk constantly with the flour for around 3 minutes. If the roux starts to turn a darker yellow color before the time is up then stop.
3) Add any type of white stock you like. A white stock is a stock where the bones or vegetables were not browned (fried) before making the stock. Make sure the stock is room temperature or warmer. If it is too cold it might seize the roux.
4) Mix the stock and the roux together thoroughly and then add some herbs; one smashed garlic clove, one tea spoon of cracked pepper corns, a sprig of thyme, a leaf of sage and bay leaf. You can experiment with the herbs you put into this sauce.
5) Increase the heat until the sauce boils and then reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes. Once done, strain it to remove all the herbs. You’re ready to serve your Velouté sauce.
Note that Velouté sauce is not usually served in restaurants as such but is rather used as a base ingredient to make more elaborate sauces such as Sauce Parisienne, Albufera Sauce, Normandy Sauce and so on. Pan sauce on the other hand is a deliciously flavorful sauce that is even easier to make than Velouté and is indeed served in restaurants. Pan sauce gets its name from the way its made. When pan frying, or sautéing, meat, you usually get some bits stuck to the pan after the meat is done. Instead of spending half an hour scrubbing it off after the meal, it’s better (and more effective at removing crust, especially with cast iron pans) to make a sauce using these stuck caramelized pieces of meat as flavoring agents in pan sauce. Here’s how you make a pan sauce: