The Five Mothers – Or Is It Eleven? All About Sauces

“A well made sauce will make even an elephant or a grandfather palatable.”

-Grimod de la Reynière


It’s mothers’ day today. For our ‘60s menu we have steak – and what is the classic sauce pairing with steak? In a Berni Inn it would be a flavoured butter probably, but anywhere a bit more up market it would be a Béarnaise sauce. Béarnaise is what is known as a ‘daughter’ sauce of hollandaise. So what makes hollandaise a ‘mother’, what else is a ‘mother’ and what exactly is the structure of sauce families? How can we use this knowledge to cheat in the making of them?

A ‘mother’ sauce is a basic sauce – excellent in its own right – but which can have ingredients added and thereby transform itself into something else, with its own name – becoming a ‘daughter’ sauce.

The great French chef Escoffier, following his mentor, Carême, identified five main sauces, béchamel (a basic white sauce thickened with flour), espagnole (another name for dark gravy), velouté (gravy made from chicken or fish stock thickened with flour and/or cream), hollandaise (notoriously unstable warm emulsion of egg yolks) and tomate (essentially tomatoes thickened with a roux).

The famous Savoy Hotel dish of omelette Arnold Bennett uses both hollandaise and Béchamel sauces mixed together. One sauce too many maybe? Starting to lose the will to live? These days you can buy fresh ready-made hollandaise from most supermarkets…..

In the film The Hundred-Foot Journey (see trailer below – the soundtrack is also good to cook to), the hero Hassan (played by Manish Dayal) tries to impress sous-chef Marguerite (played by Charlotte Le Bon) by producing perfect versions of each of the mother sauces – a challenge of the same magnitude as one of Hercules’ twelve labours. In fact they are not that difficult, it is all a matter of practice. In the film Hassan uses all kinds of of other sauces – I spotted an Indian yoghurt-based raita for example – and I’ve also updated the list of mother sauces, replacing Escoffier’s tomato sauce with the flourless Italian version and adding:

• mayonnaise (stable cold emulsion)
• flavoured butters
• butter sauces
• yoghurt sauces
• salad dressings and marinades
• fruit or vegetable sauces



Milk-based, thickened with a roux

Mornay – add cheese. Serve with eggs or vegetables Parsley – add parsley and onion. Serve with gammon or white fish Mushroom – add mushrooms. Serve with veal Soubise – add onion purée. Serve with sausages, bacon or muttonAlbert – made with horseradish. Serve with trout or beef

Veal stock based, thickened with a roux and tomato paste

Bordelaise – add red wine and shallots  Bourguignonne – to the Bordelaise above add bouquet garnis. Whisk in some butter towards the end. Both good with game Bigarade – add bitter orange juice (Seville, Bergamot, Chinotto…). Serve with duck Demi-glace – simmer equal quantities of brown stock together with sauce espagnol and reduce to half. Skim off impurities and strain. Robert – add onions, white wine, gherkins, mustard to the demi-glace sauce described above. Good with pork Madeira – add madeira and beef consommé. Serve with game

Light, thickened, stock-based

Suprême – make with mushroom stock, add crème fraiche. Serve with chicken breasts Aurore – add tomato paste. Serve with eggs, poultry or fish Venetian – add tarragon, shallots, chervil Normande – make with fish stock, add cream, butter, egg

Emulsion; egg,butter, acid. You can very often buy fresh Hollandaise ready made (look near the fish counter)

Béarnaise  – add shallot, tarragon, chervil to a fresh Hollandaise sauce. Serve with steak or salmon Mousseline or Chantilly – add whipped cream.Sauce Devine – first add reduced sherry to the whipped cream. Serve with poultry or offal Bavaroise – add cream, horseradish and thyme. Serve with steak or beef Noisette – make with browned butter. Serve with asparagus, trout, salmon, potatoes
Mayonnaise Aïoli – add garlic Rémoulade – add mustard, shallots, pickles. Serve with celeriac

Gribiche – cucumbers, capers, parsley, chervil, tarragon and hard-boiled egg whites cut into matchsticks

Tartare – add capers, parsley, shallot, lemon. Serve with fish Elizabeth – add curry powder, tomato purée, apricot jam. This is the sauce for Coronation Chicken
Tomato Lebanese – add tahini Bolognese – add beef mince and chicken livers Puttanesca – add anchovies, olives, capers Arrabiata – add chilli
Butter – flavoured Lime – add juice and zest of lime, coriander, espellette pepper jelly Anchovy – add mashed anchovies or Patum Peperium. Serve with fish Horseradish and chive. Good with smoked trout or salmon. Also steak Basil, parmesan and tomato paste. Serve with vegetables
Butter – melted Simple, melted butter… or the slightly more sophisticated beurre noisette (nutty burnt butter) With wine – beurre blanc With lemon With lemon and herbs
Yoghurt With cucumber (basis of an Indian raita) or with cucumber and garlic (basis of a tzatziki) With cheese… …cheddar… With garlic and: saffron, paprika, walnuts, kale, aubergine….. the sky is the limit With hummus or tahini for a middle eastern flavour
Salad dressings and marinades Oil with vinegar, an ordinary vinaigrette or with additions – for example a sauce vierge which adds shallots, coriander, chives, chopped tomato and tarragon. Excellent with fish. Oil with wine makes a good marinade Oil with lemon juice, pomegranate molasses or other fruit juice Oil with yoghurt or cream Oil with garlic – such as a bagna caoda, or with parsley
Fruit or vegetable Coulis Apple …. with calvados or brandy Plum – sweet, with crème de cassis. Or savoury, with black cardamom Chutneys… with spices and an acidic preservative – vinegar or a citrus juice


From the film, The Hundred Foot Journey:



0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Posts

How to make rosehip syrup and jelly and what to do with it when you have

  “I think of rose hips as the strawberries of fall….. they carry the taste of strawberries and roses.” -Diana Henry, Roast Figs, Sugar Snow…
Read More

How to make rhubarb vinegar

I morphed from being an avid beetroot hater to a real fan all thanks to Nigel Slater’s method of making beetroot carpaccio (post to come)…
Read More

Sign up to our Saucy Newsletter

subscribe today for monthly highlights of foodie events, new restaurant at home menus, recipe ideas and our latest blog posts