Test Kitchen Tips
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!
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.