The 5 French Mother Sauces: Ultimate Foodie Guide

Last Updated on November 30, 2023 | 0 Comments
the five French mother sauces

This article is sponsored by Taste Europe | Butter of France. All opinions are our own.

A rite of passage for every chef, learning how to prepare the five French mother sauces can transform an average dish into something extraordinary. Practicing these foundational mother sauces is an easy way for home cooks to strengthen their culinary skills and bring their creations to the next level.

How does sauce enhance a dish? A well-made sauce can give a sense of cohesion to the final plate while adding moisture, depth, texture and color. If you have ever dipped into a luscious bowl of macaroni and cheese, soaked up a rich demi-glace with a piece of juicy steak or enjoyed an eggs Benedict at brunch, you have sampled some version of the mother sauces.

An essential ingredient to creating luxurious mother sauces is good butter. Using a high-quality product such as European butter from France provides an instant flavor boost as well as silkier sauces with a richer mouthfeel thanks to a higher percentage of fat. To achieve this, European butter is cultured and churned longer than American butter to achieve that higher portion of butterfat. French butter is an exceptional building block for developing rich, flavorful sauces to upgrade everything from meats and vegetables to soups and pastas. Discover how mastering the mother sauces can elevate your own cooking along with helpful tips from chefs on Cozymeal and at

What Are Mother Sauces?

French cooking is synonymous with quality, refinement and technique. Revered throughout the culinary world, mastering the French mother sauces is a fundamental element of every chef’s training. Proficiency with the mother sauces enables chefs to create countless derivatives, or daughter sauces, that can bring textural contrast and balance the flavor of a dish. The term “mother sauce” first appeared in the early 19th century when revolutionary chef and pâtissier, Marie-Antoine Carême, whom NPR dubs the first celebrity chef, conceived four mother sauces as the cornerstones of French haute cuisine. Decades later, Georges Auguste Escoffier built upon Carême’s work with an updated list of these mother sauces in 1903’s “Le Guide Culinaire” which also designated a fifth sauce.

Each of the mother sauces is born from a base liquid combined with a thickening agent enhanced with other ingredients for texture and flavor. Four out of the five mother sauces traditionally begin with a roux, in which equal parts flour and fat (typically butter) are cooked together to form a thickener before adding other ingredients such as stock to build the sauce. These core sauces are vital building blocks in a chef’s repertoire and have become a ubiquitous feature of modern cuisine. The five French mother sauces include béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise and tomato. 

European butter — specifically French butter — is unique because it contains a higher percentage of butterfat (from cultures and longer churning) which results in a creamier and richer taste, perfect for luxurious pastries and sauces. - Chef Ivan, New York City

The Five French Mother Sauces

1. Béchamel

A simple yet versatile mother sauce, béchamel is made using only a few ingredients, including butter, milk, flour and salt. Preparing this sauce begins with making a roux which is then mixed gradually with milk or cream to thicken. The resulting sauce should have a smooth, creamy consistency that has thickened just enough to coat the back of a spoon. Salt and other seasonings such as pepper, nutmeg or herbs may then be added to enhance the flavor. When making mother sauces like béchamel, Chef Ivan in NYC advises home cooks to “whisk constantly while adding milk to prevent lumps” and try dialing up the flavor by “infusing the milk with onion, garlic or spices.” From the base of a béchamel sauce, chefs can create an array of white sauces, cream sauces or cheese sauces that bring a rich unctuousness to a dish. Smooth, buttery béchamel is a key ingredient in many comfort foods with the creamy sauce and its derivatives appearing in numerous casserole, soup and pasta recipes.

bechamel sauce

Derivative Sauces:

  • Mornay - this iconic cheese sauce consists of béchamel enriched with Gruyére and sometimes Parmesan as well as cloves, onion and bay leaf.
  • Aurora - this creamy pinkish-red sauce in which tomato purée is added to its mother sauce is often served with eggs, vegetables, fish or pasta.
  • Nantua - a popular accompaniment to seafood dishes, this sauce is made by adding shrimp or crayfish butter and cream to béchamel.
  • Soubise - sautéed onions, finely chopped or puréed, are incorporated into béchamel to create this savory sauce traditionally enjoyed with meats, game or vegetables.

Typically Served With:

bechamel sauce poured over eggplant

2. Velouté

Thought to be the oldest of the mother sauces, velouté gets its name from the French word velour, which means velvet, referencing the smooth, silky texture of the sauce. As noted by MAD, both velouté and béchamel appeared in Chef Pierre de la Varenne’s “Le Cuisinier François” published in 1651 which revolutionized the art of French cuisine. Velouté begins with a white roux that is cooked slightly longer than the base of a béchamel and has a subtly golden hue. Instead of milk, a light stock is added to create this mother sauce with the most common being chicken, veal or fish. Using stock instead of dairy gives the sauce a slightly more complex flavor and a smooth consistency that is thinner than a béchamel.

When making mother sauces, Chef Lisa in Boston loves “the salty, tangy character of French butter” and prefers it to American butter in dishes that allow the richness and flavor to shine such as in a classic velouté. Despite being one of the simplest of the mother sauces to make, the versatile velouté is perhaps the most important to both classical French and modern cooking due to the vast number of daughter sauces that use it as their base. Velouté and its daughter sauces typically pair well with chicken or seafood dishes and also work well as starters for creamy soups. Many of the daughter sauces of velouté each have their own derivative sauces that continue to build layers of flavor upon this essential base. 

veloute sauce

Derivative Sauces:

  • Allemande - one of Carême’s original mother sauces, this sauce goes by many names including German sauce or sauce Parisienne, and is made by enriching velouté (traditionally veal) with egg yolk and heavy cream, sometimes seasoned with lemon juice.
  • Suprême - typically made from a chicken velouté, heavy cream or crème fraîche is added, then strained to produce a luxuriously silky sauce.
  • Sauce Vin Blanc (White Wine Sauce) - traditionally prepared by simmering white wine with heavy cream in a fish velouté, this sauce is often served as an accompaniment to seafood dishes.
  • Normande or Normandy - while many versions exist with additional ingredients, at its core this sauce is a velouté, generally using fish stock, enriched with cream, egg yolks and butter.
  • Bercy - this lively sauce, often enjoyed with seafood, is made by adding finely chopped shallots, white wine and butter to a fish stock velouté.
  • Ravigote - served hot or cold, this acidic sauce consists of a basic velouté infused with dry white wine, white wine vinegar, herbs and shallots.
  • Hungarian - made by adding sautéed onions, white wine and paprika to a chicken or veal velouté, this sauce is a beautiful accompaniment to roast chicken dishes.

Typically Served With:

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Veal
  • Creamy soups (such as vichyssoise or bisque)
  • Vegetables
  • Biscuits (as gravy)
  • Swedish meatballs

one of the five French mother sauces

3. Espagnole

Sometimes known simply as brown sauce, espagnole is a rich, complex mother sauce that begins similarly to velouté. However, rather than the light or blonde roux used in other mother sauces, espagnole begins with a roux that has been cooked and browned several minutes to develop a toasted, nutty flavor. Beef or veal stock made from roasted bones is added to this brown roux to give the sauce even more depth.

Most recipes for espagnole include a mirepoix of sautéed carrots, celery and onions as well as tomato purée and aromatics. Unlike the more neutral taste of mother sauces such as béchamel or velouté, this sauce carries a deep, bold flavor and serves as the base for a range of popular accompaniments to hearty meat and game dishes such as demi-glace and various wine reductions. Along with cozy beef stews in the New England winters, spring mushroom dishes and pan sauces for lamb, Chef Lisa in Boston highlights the versatility of this umami-rich sauce and recommends keeping “a small reserve of demi-glace on hand just in case a sauce or base of a dish needs more depth. Sometimes only a small spoonful will make or break a dish!”

espagnole French sauce being made on stove

Derivative Sauces:

  • Demi-Glace - a key ingredient to create Madeira, Bordelaise, port wine sauce and Marchand de Vin or a red wine reduction, red wine is reduced with espagnole to create a thick, concentrated sauce with a consistency similar to syrup.
  • Bourguignonne - a popular accompaniment to beef, this sauce adds red wine, onions and bouquet garni (a bundle of parsley, thyme and bay leaf) to a base of espagnole.
  • Chasseur - also known as hunter’s sauce, this brown sauce adds mushrooms and shallots to a base of espagnole.
  • Lyonnaise - onions and white wine vinegar are added to espagnole or a rich demi-glace to create this sauce which pairs well with roasted or grilled meats and vegetables.
  • Bercy - similar to the bercy sauce made with velouté, this version is prepared with white wine, shallots and a rich, meaty espagnole base.
  • Poivrade - traditionally, this sauce consists of mirepoix, wine and vinegar added to an espagnole base and generously seasoned with black pepper.
  • Sauce Africaine - this robust sauce adds onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and herbs to its mother sauce base.

Typically Served With:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Game meats such as rabbit, venison or wild fowl
  • Mushrooms

espagnole mother sauce

4. Hollandaise

Of the mother sauces, hollandaise is perhaps the most unique. It relies on a technique called emulsification rather than a roux to thicken the rich, acidic sauce. Not included in Carême’s original four mother sauces, Escoffier demoted allemande, now a daughter sauce of velouté, and added hollandaise to the esteemed five mother sauces in the early 20th century. A luscious, creamy sauce made from butter, egg yolks and an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar, technique is key when making hollandaise.

To prepare this sauce, lemon juice and egg yolks are constantly whisked while heating gently over a double boiler. Temperature control is essential as the eggs should not get too hot or begin to scramble. Once the mixture has lightened in color and started to thicken, melted butter is slowly drizzled into the emulsion while the chef continues to whisk. It is important to have patience while incorporating the butter to avoid the sauce breaking or separating.

Chef Ivan in NYC suggests home cooks “use room temperature eggs and melted butter to prevent the sauce from breaking.” The finished hollandaise should be smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Hollandaise and its daughter sauces are very versatile and pair well with a wide range of dishes from delicate eggs and vegetables to hearty steaks and salmon. 

mother sauce hollandaise over asparagus

Derivative Sauces:

  • Béarnaise - this emulsion includes vinegar, tarragon, shallots and black pepper to create a rich sauce especially well-suited for grilled meats such as steak and has many daughter sauces of its own.
  • Choron - hollandaise infused with tomato paste enhances the sweetness and acidity of its mother sauce.
  • Crème Fleurette - simply add cream to a basic hollandaise to create this daughter sauce.
  • Bavaroise - also known as Bavarian sauce, this hollandaise derivative incorporates horseradish, heavy cream and thyme.
  • Maltaise or Maltese - the zest and juice of blood oranges are added to hollandaise to bring a tangy sweetness to this sauce traditionally served over asparagus or broccoli.
  • Mousseline - sometimes called Chantilly sauce, whipped cream is folded into hollandaise to create this light and airy derivative.

Typically Served With:

  • Eggs Benedict
  • Steamed fish
  • Vegetables such as asparagus, green beans or broccoli
  • Steak, especially as a béarnaise

hollandaise being whipped on the stove

5. Tomato

Also known as sauce tomate or red sauce, the traditional French tomato sauce was added along with hollandaise to the esteemed mother sauces by Escoffier in 1903. With roots in classic Italian cooking, it’s no surprise that this popular sauce is commonly served with pizza and pasta dishes although it is widely used across many European cuisines.

While the original French variation is built from blending rendered pork fat with vegetables and stock into a roux to thicken, modern versions are often simply a reduction of tomatoes, herbs and other aromatics. Whichever way it is prepared, the most essential element of a rich, fragrant tomato sauce is always time. The longer the ingredients are allowed to simmer, the more flavor is infused into the reduction, resulting in a layered and complex sauce. Stretching far beyond the confines of European cuisines, it is argued that tomato sauce could be considered the mother of saucy, tomato-based dishes from across the globe such as tikka masala or shakshuka. 

French tomato sauce

Derivative Sauces:

  • Bolognese - this iconic derivative traditionally adds ground meat and a sofrito of diced vegetables to its tomato base.
  • Marinara - perhaps the most widely recognized iteration of the mother sauces, the simple addition of herbs and aromatics including parsley, garlic and oregano create the signature flavor of this beloved sauce.
  • Puttanesca - this variation of tomato sauce from the south of Italy gets its umami-rich flavor from anchovies, capers and olives.
  • Spanish - mushrooms and olives are added to a tomato base to create this sauce.
  • Portuguese - sautéed onions and garlic cloves are added to a tomato sauce base then finished with fresh chopped parsley.
  • Provençale - this tomato sauce is enriched with olive oil and flavored with onions, garlic and seasonings such as a French herb blend known as herbes de Provence.
  • Creole - this spicy tomato sauce incorporates vegetables such as onions, celery and green bell pepper with herbs, garlic and hot pepper sauce.

Typically Served With:

  • Pasta
  • Meatballs
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Seafood
  • Pizza
  • Eggs
  • Soups
  • Beans
  • Risotto
  • Vegetables

tomato sauce over white fish

I love the salty, tangy character of French butter. Those qualities, along with the naturally deep yellow color and higher fat content, truly helps to set itself apart from American butter. - Chef Lisa, Boston

The Foundation of Mother Sauces: Butter

While each of the five mother sauces is markedly distinct, they are all enhanced by one crucial ingredient: butter. Whether as the fat component of a roux, an essential emulsifier or a vehicle for flavor, butter plays a critical role in developing the taste and texture of each of the mother sauces. With 82% fat, using European butter from France improves both the flavor and texture of rich sauces, flaky pastry and more.

Chef Luana in Los Angeles uses “European butter both for sweets and savory dishes” using it “to make pastry doughs that need more acidity, richness and flavor as well as in sauces.” The chef is “always fascinated by the different tastes, colors and textures butter has [in Europe]” where making butter is a form of art. Much pride is taken in producing high-quality French butter. The process is authentic, steeped in tradition and very controlled with rigid regulations guiding the care of the cows, the land and the farmers.

Made with simple, all natural ingredients, French butter is rich in vitamin D and calcium and complements a wide range of diets and lifestyles. To integrate French butter into your cooking at home, Chef Andy in Chicago suggests incorporating “it into baking dishes first to taste the different flavors and eventually use it for sauces.” You might also use French butter to create compound butters infused with herbs or spices to finish proteins or spread some on a piece of toast for a simple yet decadent bite. 

The Five Mother Sauce Recipes

Proficiency with the classic mother sauces of French cuisine provides chefs and home cooks alike a foundation for building a vast and versatile array of dishes. Familiarity with these five base sauces opens up endless possibilities for creativity in the kitchen. From developing layers of flavor in soups and casseroles to finishing the plate with an element of texture and color, a well-made sauce can make almost any dish feel elevated and complete. With a little practice and high-quality ingredients such as French butter, these mother sauces can take your favorite dishes to the next level.

Get our favorite recipes for all five mother sauces below and watch our step-by-step video. What's your favorite French mother sauce? Let us know in the comments!

About Cozymeal

Discover the best in culinary experiences and products on Cozymeal: From in-person cooking classes to virtual cooking & mixology classes to private chef meals and top-rated cookware — from world-class chefs, mixologists & more.

View All Experiences & Cookware on Cozymeal
Chef comments icon


Join the conversation.

Please Log In to leave a comment