Part of the pleasure of following French cuisine is that French chefs debate almost everything …whether ingredients, methods, technique, tricks, texture, flavor or mouth-feel.
It’s a shame that Marie-Antoine Carême, probably France’s first celebrity chef, and Auguste Escoffier, the “king of haute cuisine,” didn’t live at the same time, because they’d have gone to the mat with each other over sauces.
Among his other achievements, Carême pioneered the concept of the MOTHER SAUCES – the sauces from which all other sauces are made (all the ones that counted, in his view). Carême reached his peak of influence in the early 1800s, shortly before Escoffier was born.
The principal point of contention between the two of them: Carême believed there were six mother sauces. Escoffier said five. Escoffier prevailed (maybe because Carême wasn’t around to argue with him), but as you’ll see, five could be six. But it could also be 10, 20 or however many.
Let’s start with the five:
BÉCHAMEL. This rich, creamy and smooth white sauce is made from butter, flour and milk. It’s often used in lasagna, gratin dauphinois and right here in Minneapolis in the Creamed Spinach at MANNY’S.
But you can’t be a mother without children, and Béchamel has spawned a number of “daughter sauces.” Add cheese, cream and butter, and you have MORNAY SAUCE. Think Mac & Cheese or Croque Monsieur, or my favorite: The Hot Brown, created at the famous Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.
VELOUTÉ. By thickening chicken, veal or fish stock with roux, you arrive at this smooth, ivory-colored sauce. Crank it up with fish stock, white wine, shallots and butter, and voila: you have just birthed Velouté’s daughter, BERCY SAUCE – delicious spooned on a pan-fried fish filet. Its sibling, ALLEMANDE SAUCE, contains veal stock, egg yolk, cream and squeeze of lemon (If there’s a heaven, this is it). Drizzle it on veal medallions. Don’t eat veal? Then amp up your velouté by introducing heavy cream, chicken stock and mushrooms, then nap your new daughter sauce generously over a roasted chicken breast. Her name? SUPREME (I still remember the Chicken Supreme we served at Muffuletta back in the ‘70s.)
ESPAGNOLE. This is the mother of all brown sauces – made from a brown stock to which dark brown roux, puréed tomatoes and mirepoix (sautéed chopped onions, carrots and celery) are added. It’s rarely used by itself, however. The daughters do the heavy lifting here. Add red wine, shallots, brown stock and dark brown roux to make BORDELAISE SAUCE, a deep and rich daughter that’s meant for roast beef. She has a sister called CHAUSSER SAUCE (AKA HUNTER SAUCE), made with mushrooms, tomatoes, white wine and shallots. She beguiles on braised chicken…on a nasty day.
Espagnole on steroids creates a lusty, full-flavored, potent and heady daughter called DEMI-GLACE. She’s made by combining equal parts brown stock to Espagnole sauce and patiently simmering for hours, ‘til it becomes like jelly. Check out the image of the braised short ribs and mushrooms over mashed potatoes. It almost makes you wish for November.
TOMATO SAUCE. The French call it “sauce de tomate.” In Italian, it’s “salsa di Pomodoro” (think Pasta Pomodoro, tossed with spaghetti, Parmesan and basil). I cannot think of a better use of a Sunday afternoon than making BOLOGNESE SAUCE – lovingly stirred with one hand, a glass or two or three of red wine in the other. My go-to recipe is the one I was taught by Marcella Hazan in Bologna, Italy when Pete and I attended her cooking school. Hands down, the BEST BOLOGNESE! What makes it so good? I’ll give you a hint: it might involve heavy cream.
HOLLANDAISE SAUCE. Velvety smooth and silky, this pale-yellow mother sauce is simply crafted with butter, egg yolks, and a few drops of lemon juice. That’s it. But what a wonderful topping it makes for Eggs Benedict or steamed broccoli at a steakhouse! And since we’re speaking of steakhouses, who on this planet would turn down a medium rare, two-inch-thick steak capped with a generous dollop of her daughter sauce, BERNAISE – a Hollandaise to which tarragon, shallots and a tiny splash of vinegar has been added. Add heavy cream and tomato paste to it, and you have what might be a “granddaughter” sauce: CHORON. Not enough calories yet? Then MOUSSELINE might be to your liking. She’s made by combining Hollandaise and whipped cream. Try it on white asparagus.
So those are the five. But wait a minute, what about the sixth? What about BUERRE BLANC, made with shallots, butter, white wine and vinegar – so fantastic on fish or chicken? And what of the PAN SAUCES, made after sauteeing by scraping up the bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet (called “fond”)? Think Steak au Poivre, whose sauce is made with Cognac with a little heavy cream. Or Sole Meuniere, with butter, lemon and parsley, blended after the sole is removed.
This can all get carried away. What about REMOULADE SAUCE? CHIMICHURRI SAUCE? Chinese – or is it American? – SWEET & SOUR SAUCE? Oh, well, we might as well include TABASCO and BARBEQUE SAUCE.
I’m too confused to continue. Just remember the MOTHER and DAUGHTER sauces.
And remember also what the French say: “With the right sauce, you can eat your father.”