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Béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato—here's how these five French sauces have defined one of the world's most sophisticated gastronomy

French cuisine has long been branded as one of the world's best. From crêpes to coq au vin, savoury to sweet, the exciting flavours of this European fare are well-beloved around the world. There's plenty of versatility within its range yet there's one—or perhaps five—things we can be sure of: the five mother sauces of French cuisine. Béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato sauces are ever-present in French food, whether as themselves or in the million other derivatives that they can turn into when cooked with other ingredients. Did you know that almost all other sauces in French cuisine use one of these five as its foundation? Today, we explore the five mother sauces that have greatly influenced this delicious gastronomy. 

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1. Béchamel

Béchamel sauce (otherwise known as white sauce) is a milk-based sauce made with only three ingredients: butter, flour, and whole milk. It's incredibly popular and is used in a variety of pastas, pizzas, and casseroles. As a mother sauce, it has birthed other foodie favourites such as mornay sauce (béchamel with onion, cloves, Gruyere, and parmesan cheese) and soubise (béchamel with butter and caramelised onions). 

One of the most popular dishes that incorporates béchamel is the bouchée à la reine. Translated to English as "the queen's morsel", this Alsatian hors d'oeurve comes in a puff pastry filled with meat (chicken breast, veal, or seafood are common) and a béchamel or béchamel derived sauce. 


2. Velouté

Similar to béchamel, velouté is also a white sauce made from flour and butter. However, instead of utilising milk (as in béchamel), velouté replaces the last ingredient with stock from chicken, veal, or fish bones. It is traditionally made by first mixing in the flour and butter to form a thickened roux before adding the stock. As a mother sauce, it has birthed the Normande sauce (fish velouté with cream, butter, and egg yolks) and the allemande sauce (velouté with lemon juice, egg yolk, and cream). 

Most any meat dishes can be served with a velouté sauce. Level up grilled chicken breast or salmon with a velouté sauce for a delicious yet easy lunch. 

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3. Hollandaise

Tangy, creamy, and universally beloved, hollandaise sauce is made from raw egg yolks, butter, and lemon juice. Due to the sensitive nature of its ingredients, hollandaise sauce is often challenging to make. However, a skilled chef can create one that tastes incredibly delicious, or twist it to become bearnaise sauce (hollandaise with white wine, tarragon, and peppercorn) or mousseline (hollandaise with heavy cream). 

Perhaps the most popular dish to go with hollandaise is the eggs benedict. Two halves of an English muffin is topped with bacon or salmon with a poached egg and drizzled with generous amounts of hollandaise sauce—the perfect way to start the day!

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4. Sauce Tomat

Tomato sauce, known in French as sauce tomate, needs few basic ingredients such as fresh herbs and tomatoes, stock, and pork fat. Auguste Escoffier, a French chef and culinary writer, created his with pork belly, onions, roux, thyme, and bay leaf. This sauce's successors include the ever-famous marinara sauce (tomato sauce with garlic, onions, and herbs) and provençal sauce (with added ingredients of parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and a dash of sugar). 

Generally associated with pasta, sauce tomate can also be used to create a delicious mussels provencal. This seafood dish is best served by the beautiful azure waters of Provence itself.

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5. Espagnole

A heavy brown sauce that's also the mother to demi-glace (espagnole sauce with stock, herbs, and spices) and burgundy sauce (espagnole with red wine and shallots), espagnole (or Spanish sauce) consists of brown roux, veal or beef stock, vegetables, browned bones, and red meat. It has a very strong flavour and is rarely served on its own (unlike hollandaise), though it pairs beautifully with meats such as duck or beef. 

Tenderloin and sirloin is a popular choice to go with espagnole sauce, especially with the traditional French steak frites (steak and fries) combination. 


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