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7 Sauces You Need to Master Right Now

Master the five French mother sauces (plus a few extras) and you'll be well on your way to fixing up professional-style meals at home!

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dressingShutterstock/Africa Studio

One of the first lessons in culinary school is about the importance of the five mother sauces. They’re not only the building blocks of classic French cuisine, but they’ll give you the foundations to becoming an incredible cook, too. They may seem intimidating at first, but they’re all based on simple ingredients and easy techniques.

Don’t miss these cooking tips that are only taught in culinary school.

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Preparation of bechamel sauce in a pan and ingredients on the table. horizontal view from aboveAS Food studio/Shutterstock

Béchamel

If you’ve ever made biscuits and gravy, then you have béchamel down. It’s a rich and creamy sauce made by combining roux (flour and butter) with milk or heavy cream. It can be bland on its own, which is why it’s often heavily seasoned. Think about sauce-filled dishes with this one, like lasagna or chicken pot pie.

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Baked macaroni and cheese dish with parmesan and cream sauce in a pan on a wooden table, top viewShutterstock/Anna Kurzaeva

Mornay

This isn’t a mother sauce, but it is a riff off the classic béchamel. Add cheese to that creamy sauce and it just became the perfect base for mac and cheese or cheesy nachos. For the smoothest texture, give your mornay a whirl in the blender (or use an immersion blender) to really incorporate all that cheese into the sauce.

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swedish meatballs with parlsey on gray slateShutterstock/Joshua Resnick

Veloute

This dairy-free version of béchamel is one of most underrated mother sauces. It’s infrequently used as a topping sauce, but it’s the base of many soups and sauces. It’s a simple combination of roux with any kind of light stock—chicken, fish or vegetable. You’ll definitely recognize this sauce if you’re a Swedish meatball fan.

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espagnole sauce basis of sauce-making in classic French cookingShutterstock/Fanfo

Espagnole

Also known as brown sauce, this sauce begins with a dark roux, softened mirepoix vegetables (onions, carrots and celery), tomato paste and dark stock. The result is a rich and indulgent gravy that makes the best starting point for a number of meaty sauces or soups.

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Tenderloin steak wrapped in bacon with demi-glace sauceShutterstock/Kondor83

Demi-Glace

Take your espagnole a little bit further and you’ll have demi-glace—a restaurant chef’s secret weapon for making everything taste crazy good. Once you make your espagnole, add in an equal part of veal stock and reduce the mixture by half. It’s an incredible sauce to serve with steak, especially if you add red wine or mushrooms to the mix.

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tomato sauce with garlic and basil in a wooden bowl closeup. horizontal view from aboveAS Food studio/Shutterstock

Tomato

Unlike modern-day tomato sauce, the mother sauce version of tomato sauce starts with salt pork and roux. Then, it simmers for hours upon hours, creating a lovely, thick sauce that perfectly smothers pasta or breaded chicken. If you’re looking to keep things gluten-free, feel free to skip the roux—just make sure you simmer long enough to thicken things up.

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Green Asparagus with salmon and hollandaise sauce (German name is Spargel mit Lachs und Sauce Hollandaise) Menu for spring seasonShutterstock/PosiNote

Hollandaise

This fancy sauce is one of the most intimidating, but we have a few tricks for making it easy.  Unlike the other sauces, there is no roux involved—just an emulsion of eggs and fat (similar to making aioli). It’s most popular on everyone’s favorite brunch dish, but it’s also a killer vegetable topper or a substitute for mayo in potato salad.

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.

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