Mother Sauces: Are They Important for Home Cooks?

Quick, name as many mother sauces as you can - no cheating! How many did you get? Or maybe the better question is how many do you actually use?Mother sauces are the cornerstone of classic French cuisine. There are five of them: béchamel, velouté, espagnol, hollandaise, and mayonnaise. Béchamel, velouté, and espagnol are all flour-based sauces that begin with a roux. Liquids are whisked in (milk, chicken stock, and beef stock respectively) to make a thick sauce. Hollandaise and mayo are egg-based sauces, where oil or butter is whisked into egg yolks. Other sauces like Bearnaise sauce and aioli are derivatives from these base recipes.

There’s actually some debate about the mayo being a mother sauce at all since it’s not a true sauce in the “cooked” sense and can be considered a version of hollandaise. Some people feel that tomato sauce is a better fit for the fifth mother sauce since it's so foundational to recipes like bolognese and other tomato-based dishes.

But aside from starting a batch of mac n’ cheese with a béchamel or the occasional hollandaise for a fancy brunch, how often do any of us make these at home? Most of the dishes we’re making these days emphasize fresh ingredients and flavors with less reliance on heavy sauces. We're also following recipes that guide us through each step without relying on our knowing what makes an espagnole different from a velouté.

Is it important for home cooks to know how to make all the mother sauces? What do you think?

Related: Food Science: Why Did My Sauce Break?

(Image: Flickr member jlastras licensed under Creative Commons. Get his recipe for Endives and Serrano Ham in Cheesy Béchamel on his blog El Labortorio Gastronómico )

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