Mastering the Five French Mother Sauces

One of my many quarantine projects is strengthening my cuisine skillset by revisiting the five essential French sauces; otherwise known as The Mother Sauces. This journey will have me make

  1. Béchamel
  2. Mornay
  3. Veloute
  4. Espagnole
  5. Demi-glace

Béchamel is a basic French white sauce. There’s a common misconception that French sauces are rich in cream and fat but this one, like the others, is not. The ingredients are

  •  2 TBL butter
  •  2 TBL flour
  •  1/8 tsp salt and a dash of pepper
  •  1 cup milk (2% if you have it)
  •  pinch of nutmeg (optional)

The first step to Béchamel is the same as most French sauces, making the roux. On medium heat, melt butter in sauce pan and stir in flour. This step is the one that determines the sauce’s end state. The goal of cooking the four in butter is to both unlock the cooked flour’s nutty taste and to provide color. Since Béchamel is a white sauce, be careful not to overcook the roux.

When the roux is done, keep pan on stove and gradually mix in milk. It is important to constantly stir to avoid creating lumps. Bring the sauce to boil and immediately reduce the heat to a simmer.

Simmer the sauce while stirring until it thickens. This is the tricky part of a good French sauce. There is a temptation to add starch to speed up the thickening process, but resist. Let the sauce simmer down to a thickened state relying on the roux to provide the binding agents.

While the sauce is simmering, add salt and pepper to taste. It’s a good idea to add both gradually, a little at a time, tasting between additions. American gravies tend to be over-salty but a well made French sauce will have enough salt to awaken the pallet without having the salt be too pronounced.

I usually nail the roux and screw up the reduction process. My issue with sauce is timing. I want the sauce to be done the moment the entrée is ready to be served, which usually causes me to rush the sauce.

Sometimes if I’m cooking Keto, I substitute heavy cream for the milk.

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