The mother sauces are a grouping of sauces. They are used by chefs to create a variety of sauces by adding select ingredients. This system was devised by August Escoffier in the early 20th Century. Escoffier was actually the chef that chose all of the dinner service items for use on the Titanic. With a firm understanding of these mother sauces, you can become quite proficient at sauce work, both at home or professionally.
The five mother sauces are: Bechamel, Espangnole, Tomato, Hollandaise, and Veloute. Each take some practice and skill to master, and some are easier than others to perfect. Bechamel is a white sauce, made of flour, butter and milk. It’s typically the base for Alfredo sauce or white country gravy. The Hollandaise is an emulsion made of egg, clarified butter and finished with lemon and Tabasco. A classic Eggs Benedict is served with a Hollandaise. It is tricky to master, because the temperature has to be just right! Tomato sauce is your start for just about any pasta sauce. It’s tomato based, and seasoned with anything from oregano, basil and onions. Although the Espagnole sauce sounds like it comes from Spain, it is still a sauce from French cuisine. Espagnole sauce is made with Spanish tomatoes and is a brown sauce. It has very strong flavors, and is rarely served on it’s own.
The last few weeks in our kitchen, we have been serving soups based on a veloute framework. Veloute is a sauce that is half bechamel sauce and half stock that is then reduced by half. The stock can be made from anything, chicken, beef, or vegetables. I have added roast tomato on one occasion and spinach and parsley on another. The veloute base is solid, and reliable, it will not break on re-fire, and has a good mouth-feel. It can be served hot or cold. It takes and distributes full flavor of the added components. Choux Foie, which is a warm sauce that is served cold, this term is used in classic garde manger. I believe it is applicable here with our soups.
My advice is dabble in some sauce work. Have fun with it, and you will reap wonderful results from your efforts. Don’t be afraid of those mothers, they will guide you to greatness.