Sauces can break or make a meal. They are initially classified into 5 categories, known as mother sauces, or “sayces meres” or “grandes sauces.” A famous french chef, did the classifications, which are taught in culinary schools. While some are only famous in big restaurants, some have made it into home cooking.
The five mother sauces are:-
- Béchamel sauce (White sauce)
- Veloute sauce
- Brown or Espagnole sauce
- Hollandaise sauce (Dutch Sauce)
- Tomato sauce
Mayonnaise was added later to make them the 6 mother sauces.
Roux – The foundation of sauces.
A roux is made of equal quantities of melted butter and flour. Use a heavy pan, (a thin-based pan very often scorches for the sauce) of stainless steel, heavy bottom enamel or aluminium (although aluminium might discolour the white sauce if egg yolk or wine is added). Stainless steel or tin-lined copper is the best for making sauces.
- White roux is for béchamel (white sauce) and soups.
- Blond roux for cream sauces and velouté soups.
- Brown roux for brown sauces.
A roux must be cooked slowly and carefully; if it is cooked quickly the heat will harden the starch in the flour and it will not combine with the liquid later to make the sauce.
Melt the butter in the pan to its point of clarification (when all the white sediment has evaporated) then add the flour with the wooden spoon or a whisk; stirring constantly to avoid scorching, slowly cook the roux to its colour required in the recipe but bear in mind that a roux must cook not less than fifteen minutes to eliminate the raw taste of uncooked flour.
A roux can be prepared in advance and kept in a cool place as it is always used cool when mixed with hot liquid for making the sauce.
To avoid having a lumpy sauce allow the roux to cool off, then add a small quantity of boiling liquid (bouillon, milk, chicken stock, beef stock, etc,) whisking constantly to obtain a soft paste. When the paste is smooth, bring the mixture to the heat and slowly to the boil.
To prevent curdling when making sauces always strain the whole beaten raw eggs before adding them to the sauces or custard.
Do not go on cooking a lumpy sauce, take it off the heat and whisk it thoroughly. If it is still lumpy after this, pass it through a very fine sieve or, if you have an electric blender, you can blend the sauce for a few seconds.
When making a sauce with alcohol, never add the alcohol before cooking. The sauce would lose its flavour. The alcohol should be added at the end of cooking.
If a sauce is not used immediately (veloutés, béchamel, brown sauces) it can be kept in a refrigerator for three to four days; rub the surface when the sauce is still warm with a piece of butter speared on a fork, or pour a thin layer of milk or stock on the surface to avoid a skin forming. If egg yolk, butter or cream is used to enrich the sauce, it should be added only when the sauce is reheated for serving.
To obtain a sauce of great savouriness, lean veal (cut into dice, cooked in butter without colouring it, with chopped onion, a sprig of thyme, a fragment of bay leaf, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper) should be added: one small onion for 4 oz per 100 g of roux and 2 oz per 50 g of lean veal.
Warm the roux and hot milk after the milk has been brought to the boil, to obtain a smooth sauce. Add it to the cooked diced veal, onions and seasoning and simmer for one hour. Then, pass through a fine strainer and coat the surface of the sauce with melted butter or a thin film of milk to prevent the formation of a skin on the surface.
A good way to prevent curdling when making a béchamel sauce is to stir the sauce with half a peeled raw potato stuck on the end of a fork.
Note: Béchamel sauce can be kept in the fridge for three to four days, and it does freeze well. Veal can be replaced by white-fleshed fish.
Proceed as for Hollandaise sauce below, but after adding the yolks of egg to the reduction (vinegar, shallots, pepper, herbs) the consistency should be heavier than of the Hollandaise and more piquant. Add the rest of the boiling liquid in a steady stream, whisking constantly, and season. The sauce will be quite heavy to start, getting lighter as it cooks.
Too thin sauce: If a sauce is too thin, a little potato flour or arrowroot (for one pint/ 600 ml liquid, two or three level teaspoons of flour or arrowroot mixed with cold water, stock or white wine) should be added gradually to the boiling sauce, stirring constantly; this should be done no more than five minutes before the end of cooking time.
Another way of thickening the sauce is to add a liaison of ‘beurre manié’ (a mixture of butter or cream with uncooked flour in equal quantities). Away from the heat mix well the butter or cream with the flour using a fork to make a smooth paste. Add small bits at a time to the simmering sauce, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens to the required consistency; this will happen very quickly. Then let it simmer for five minutes to allow the flour to cook. This method adds flavour to the sauce «and gives it a perfect consistency.
Another way of thickening the sauce is with an egg yolk and cream liaison but this should be added just before serving to avoid any curdling, Mix the yolk or yolks with an equal volume of cream then add some of the hot liquid (used for making the sauce), whisking constantly. Take it off the heat, add the liaison to the sauce, then return the sauce to a moderate heat, whisking non-stop until the sauce thickens. Do not let it boil or it will curdle.
Too thick sauce: Whisk a tablespoon at a time of milk or stock into the simmering sauce until it gets to the right texture.