Cooking Tips · Techniques

Cooking Basics — Mother Sauces II

In last week’s Cooking Tip, we started our discussion of Mother Sauces by explaining a roux as well as the two white sauces known as béchamel and velouté. In this Cooking Tip, I will be finishing with the other three mother sauces.

Espagnole – this is a basic brown sauce made by enhancing a brown stock (usually made from roasted beef/veal bones) with browned mirepoix and tomato puree and thickening it with a brown roux. Espagnole is rarely used by itself because of its strength in taste.

It is often further refined to produce a very rich and flavorful sauce called demi-glace. This is a mixture of half espagnole and half brown stock, which is then reduced by half.

Other types of brown sauces include jus liés, pan sauces and reduction sauces. Jus liés are made by reducing brown stocks and thickening with a starch slurry. Pan sauces and reduction sauces are produced as part of the roasting or sauteing cooking process. The sauces can be thickened with roux, starch slurries or just simple reduction.

This brown sauce is often paired with meat dishes like roast lamb or as the base of a beef bourguignon. Variations include:

  • Sauce Robert (Dijon mustard & onion)
  • Sauce Madiera (mushrooms, shallots)
  • Grand Veneur (red currant jam or other dark berry & cream).

Hollandaise – this classic sauce is an emulsion of eggs, butter & acid.

The recommended ratio of egg to butter varies from 1 yolk for every 2-3 ounces of butter to 3 yolks to ½ cup butter. If you have concerns about the eggs, you can use pasteurized eggs. Alternatively, if you use a method where you gently cook the egg yolks in a bain marie, you can get them to a safe temperature. The acid is traditionally either a vinegar reduction or lemon juice and is included for flavor and the effect it has on the yolk. It also provides the water necessary for an emulsion.

Since the largest part is butter, the success of failure of the sauce depends not just on technique but on the quality of the butter.

A typical hollandaise recipe might be the following.

  1. If wanting to use a vinegar reduction, cook white wine, white wine vinegar and minced shallots over moderate heat until nearly dry. Cool and then add a small amount of water. This is your reduction.
  2. Add egg yolks to the reduction and place bowl over simmering water, whisking until thickened and warm (145°F).
  3. When the yolks have increased in size by 2-3 times and fall in ribbons, remove from the simmering water.
  4. Gradually whisk in warm butter, adding in a thin stream and whisking constantly. As you do this, the sauce will thicken.
  5. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne and/or lemon juice.

If the sauce becomes too thick, add a small amount of water or lemon juice. If the sauce starts to break, add a small amount of cold water and whisk until it is smooth again. Another alternative is to cook another yolk as before and then gradually whisk it into the broken sauce.

A blender may also be used to make hollandaise. If you do this method and you are not heating your egg yolks, you may want to use pasteurized eggs.

There are many Hollandaise derivatives but they usually start with a Béarnaise sauce.

  • Béarnaise – hollandaise plus tarragon
  • Foyot – béarnaise + glace de viande (meat stock reduced to a syrup)
  • Choron – hollandaise plus tomato
  • Sauce Escoffier is made by combining choron, foyot and béarnaise
  • Sauce Maltese – this uses a blood orange reduction and hollandaise

Common uses are for eggs benedict or as an asparagus dipping sauce.

Tomato sauce – this is a generic term for any sauced based mainly on tomatoes. The tomatoes might be raw or cooked anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. The cooking fat might be oil or rendered bacon fat. Some sauces will be puréed until smooth and others will be chunkier.

It might be made with canned or fresh tomatoes. (For a discussion of the different types of canned tomato products, see this Cooking Tip. As with the white sauces, it is often started with a mirepoix for flavoring. Others might just use onions and garlic. A meaty flavor is often imparted by using ham or pork bones.

Tomato sauce was actually a new world import but the French adapted it by adding a roux and herbs to produce a more refined sauce. The Italians produced a rustic, tomato-forward sauce with many regional differences. As with the Italians, most of us do not use a roux to thicken it but rather just reduce it with simmering to get the texture we want.

That brings us to the end of the classic Mother Sauces. Having a working knowledge of these sauces will help you immensely improve your cooking. For a discussion of a few other sauces, see this Cooking Tip.