Through My Kitchen Window – Why the sauce?

BÈchamel sauce is the base for a number of other classic sauces with additional ingredients added, such as this Mornay (cheese) sauce. Photo provided by Mouse buck11/Wikimedia Commons.

Have you ever noticed that upscale restaurants serve everything with sauce? The food is either coated in a sauce, sitting on top of one, or has a sauce drizzled or “swooped” across the plate. Why so much sauce?

Because it adds color, flavor, and moisture! The French call these sauces “mother sauces” and have five main sauces that act as blank canvases for a variety of flavors and foods. These sauces are the béchamel, veloute, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato. Want to create these sauces like an upscale chef? Read on for a description, when to use, and a basic recipe for each sauce.

Béchamel: The béchamel is a white sauce comprised of a flour and butter roux and cream or milk. It is used to create cream soups and sauces or as a topping on pasta, nachos, or sandwiches.

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To make a béchamel sauce, melt 1 Tb butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in 2 heaping Tbs flour until a smooth paste (roux) forms. Continue to whisk one more minute to cook the flour. Season with kosher salt. Add 2 cups of milk a little at a time, continually whisking. Add a ¼ onion, pinch of ground nutmeg, and 2 cloves, allspice, or peppercorns. Simmer for 45 minutes, then remove the onion and cloves. Yields 2 cups. Add 1-2 cups shredded cheese to create a cheese sauce (mornay sauce).

Veloute: The veloute is similar to the béchamel in use and also begins with a butter and flour roux. It then has broth added instead of dairy. It is commonly used as a base for clam chowder and chicken pot pie.

To make a veloute sauce, begin by making a roux with 2 Tbs butter and 2 Tbs flour until it looks like wet sand. Slowly whisk in 2-3 cups hot stock (chicken, beef, etc.) until it creates a thick broth. Season with kosher salt and simmer 20-30 minutes to cook the flour. Stir in a ½ cup heavy cream. Yields 2 cups.

Espagnole: The espagnole is a stock based sauce that begins with veal stock and is thickened with a roux, tomato paste, and mushrooms.

To make an espagnole sauce, heat 2 quarts of veal or beef stock until hot. In a separate sauce pan make a roux from 1 Tb butter and 2 Tbs flour. When you have a mixture like wet sand, whisk the roux into the hot stock. Wash out your roux pan and sauté 14 ozs canned tomatoes (drained) and 9 mushrooms in 2-3 Tbs olive oil. Add a 2 Tbs tomato paste, a bouquet garni (bundle of thyme, peppercorns, parsley stems, and garlic) and season with kosher salt. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add the stock and stir well. Reduce the heat and simmer 2 hours. Strain out solids. Yields 4 cups.

Hollandaise: The hollandaise is made from beaten egg yolks, clarified butter, and lemon juice. It is often used over veggies, fish, or even French fries.

To make a hollandaise sauce place 2 egg yolks in a double boiler that is simmering gently. Whisk vigorously adding a few splashes of white wine (2-3 tsp total). The mixture will become lighter, increase in volume, and become light and fluffy. Move the top pan on and off the heat as needed to avoid scrambling the eggs. If it gets too thick add a splash of lemon juice or water to thin, When the mixture is pale yellow and creamy, slowly whisk in 2/3 cup clarified butter. To finish, whisk in a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve so the sauce doesn’t separate. Yields 2 cups.

Tomato: The tomato sauce is used mainly as a pasta sauce and is comprised of tomatoes, veggies, olive oil, and herbs.

To make a tomato sauce dice 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 2 ribs of celery. Sauté in a generous amount of olive oil until translucent. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Add 2 Tbs tomato paste and sauté 5 minutes. Deglaze (scrape the cooked bits off the bottom of the pan) with 2-3 Tbs white wine. Add 10-12 chopped tomatoes, a bouquet garni, and 4 cups filtered water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer covered for 4-5 hours. Remove the bouquet garni and serve. Yields 4 cups.

These mother sauces are simply a base for whatever spice or flavor you want to add. Be creative and add a little upscale flair to your everyday menu.

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