Do you know what the 5 French mother sauces are? How long do they last? How do you use them? Read on to find out.
What are the 5 French Mother Sauces?
The culinary revolution is synonymous with France. Many of the current culinary practices, food industry standards and dining etiquette have a French background.
In the early 20th century, the world’s famous chef Auguste Escoffier, refined a list of sauces from chef’s Marie Antoine-Careme’s former list.
These sauces had been used in the kitchen, mostly in classical cuisine. They became known as the 5 French mother (basic) sauces.
They are called mother sauces because you can derive other numerous sauces from them.
The use of Roux in Mother Sauces
Perfecting the art of sauce making revolves around roux. Roux is basically a mixture of fat and flour, which are cooked together before liquids and other ingredients are added.
Butter is the most commonly used fat, but you may use oil or other fats as well.
Out of the 5 sauces, only Hollandaise sauce is made without roux.
Having known about roux, read on to know the 5 sauces.
Also known as white sauce, béchamel is a mixture of roux with milk or cream. Béchamel is the backbone to many dishes such as mac and cheese, pasta casseroles, cheese soufflés and stews.
The roux used in béchamel sauce is cooked to a creamy white color, but not caramelized. This is what gives it the name white sauce.
Whisk the milk in slowly while the roux is still hot, to prevent lumps. Allow the mixture to cook until it thickens to a creamy consistency.
You can throw in a bay leaf or two for flavor. Make sure you season the sauce too. For perfection, you can strain the sauce to remove any lumps before using.
Examples of sauces derived from béchamel:
- Mornay sauce
- Cream sauce
- Soubise sauce
- Nantua sauce
Shelf life of béchamel sauce
Milk or cream based sauces like béchamel are highly perishable. As such, make it a habit to prepare only the required amount per recipe.
Nevertheless, utilize the refrigerator to store any leftovers. Refrigerated béchamel keeps well for 5 days at most.
Freezing is optional as some sauces tend to lose luster when stored for too long. If you opt to freeze, maintain a constant 0° temperature.
It is best to flash freeze sauces before placing them in the freezer. Just place freshly prepared béchamel in freezable bags and immerse in ice cold water for roughly 30 minutes. The sauce should cool instantly. Transfer to the freezer.
Flash freezing helps to prevent multiplication of bacteria that often happens when cooked food is left to cool over the counter top at room temperature.
As its name suggests, tomato sauce is a reduction of tomatoes into a thick, tangy sauce.
Tomato sauce is popular in pizza making, tomato soup, meat stews, rice dishes like pilaf, jollof, casseroles, is used as a dip and condiment to various fried foods.
There are myriads of tomato sauce recipes. Traditionally, chefs used caramelized roux to thicken the sauce. However, the tomatoes themselves are enough to obtain a thick enough sauce.
A simple recipe entails frying onions, garlic and herbs until golden brown. Add chopped as well as canned tomatoes and leave to simmer. Season the sauce well before straining.
Examples of sauces derived from tomato sauce:
- Milanaise sauce
- Creole sauce
Shelf life of tomato sauce
Homemade tomato sauce has a fairly short life due to lack of added preservatives. Refrigerate leftover sauce and consume within 5 days.
Store-bought or canned tomato sauce lasts longer. Opened tomato sauce can be frozen or refrigerated.
Well frozen tomato sauce lasts up to 3 months. Refrigerated tomato sauce keeps well for 5 days, 7 at most.
One of the trickiest mother sauces to make, hollandaise is an emulsion of melted (clarified) butter, egg yolks and an acid reduction such as lemon juice, vinegar or white wine.
Traditionally, the recipe entailed whisking in melted butter into the cooking egg yolks.
Nowadays, you will find shortcuts where blenders are used to mix everything together.
The secret is to whisk until all ingredients combine well into a thick sauce, without overcooking the egg yolks.
Clarified butter also hastens emulsification since its fats are already broken down by melting. Season with spices and herbs of your choice.
Hollandaise sauce works well on eggs benedict, poached fish, herb crusted meat dishes, roasted or steamed vegetables like asparagus and broccoli.
Examples of sauces derived from hollandaise:
- Béarnaise sauce
- Grimrod sauce
- Maltaise sauce
Shelf life of hollandaise sauce
The use of eggs shortens the shelf life of hollandaise sauce. Refrigerate as soon as possible. Hollandaise lasts for 2 days in the fridge.
Did you know the word “Veloute” is French for velvety?
Veloute sauce is fairly simple to make. It is a combination of white roux with a light stock, mostly chicken stock.
Veal and fish stock are also used. As such, Veloute is commonly known as chicken Veloute.
When making Veloute, whisk the stock slowly into the roux until smooth. Season with salt, white pepper and bay leaf before allowing the sauce to simmer slowly for a few minutes.
Use Veloute on chicken and seafood dishes like chicken supreme, pan-fried fish steaks, baked chicken and fish.
Examples of Veloute sauce derivatives:
- Allemande sauce
- Normandy sauce
- Cardinal sauce
- Bercy sauce
Shelf life of Veloute sauce
Veloute is another highly perishable sauce. Refrigerate and consume within 3 days at best. Always reheat until boiling point before using refrigerated sauces.
Brown (Espagnole) sauce
The last of the 5 mother sauces, espagnole sauce is basically brown sauce. It is deeply concentrated hence is rarely used directly.
Making brown sauce entails the use of brown (caramelized) roux, beef stock, mirepoix (a bunch of chopped vegetables used to add flavor), bouquet garni (tied herbs and spices) and tomato paste.
The beef stock used utilizes strongly roasted bones in high temperature until brown. This is important in giving espagnole its distinctive deep brown hue.
Ensure you remove the bouquet garni at the end. Strain the sauce before using.
Examples of espagnole derivatives:
- Bordelaise sauce
- Madeira sauce
- Chateaubriand sauce
- Robert sauce
Shelf life of espagnole sauce
Unopened brown sauce can last up to 1 week in the fridge. You can also freeze unopened types and will keep well for up to 1 year. Refrigerate and consume opened cans or homemade brown sauce within 3 days.
How can you identify spoiled sauces?
Here are things to look out for:
- Off-odor is a clear indicator of spoilage.
- Discoloration – at the onset of spoilage, you will notice that sauces will start changing color. Discard any dark brown, black or green looking sauces.
This post was not meant to be another “basic food knowledge” theory lesson. Though I am sure you have gained new knowledge! For any home cook or food enthusiast, being knowledgeable on the above 5 French mother sauces and their shelf life is paramount.