9 Classic Sauces Every Cook Should Master
One of the most basic skills that a culinary school student learns is how to make the mother sauces. The five classic French sauces—béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and sauce tomate—are the building blocks to everything from lasagna to eggs Benedict. While these sauces are definitely important for chefs to master, today’s everyday home cook rarely has use for a velouté, espagnole, and hollandaise. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn how to make any sauces. Every savvy home cook should be able to whip up a delicious marinara and a tangy vinaigrette. Sure, you can buy a jar of marinara and a bottle of salad dressing at the grocery store, but these products are filled with unnatural preservatives and additives like extra sugar. When you make your own sauce, you’re controlling the quality of the dish, both in flavor and ingredients. Ready to get cooking? Here are nine sauces every modern cook should be able to make successfully.
This is the one mother sauce that you should know how to make. A béchamel is a traditional white sauce that starts with a roux (fat and flour cooked together). Milk is the liquid that’s added to the roux; nutmeg is béchamel’s signature seasoning. Use it to make a creamy sauce for pasta or pour over vegetables to make a gratin.
A vinaigrette is a sauce for salads and greens. The basic ratio is three parts oil to one part acid. However, some people like to make it two parts oil to one part acid. Experiment with both and choose the ratio that works best for you. Acid can be fresh citrus juice or vinegar (balsamic, red, sherry, etc.). Add flavor by mixing in herbs, garlic, shallots, parmesan cheese, honey, Dijon mustard, and spices.
A pan sauce is a sauce made in the juices of just cooked protein—fish, chicken, pork, beef. Aromatics (garlic or shallot) are added to the hot pan after the meat is finished cooking. The aromatics are sautéed in protein’s juices and seasoned with spices (mustard, black peppercorns). Next, liquid (wine, broth) is added to the pan. This deglazes the mixture and allows you to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Herbs and citrus can be added. The liquid is reduced and the final step is to add a little bit of fat (butter, cream). This is what gives the sauce a restaurant-quality luster.
Onions, garlic, and tomatoes are all you need to make a thick marinara sauce. Use fresh tomatoes when they are in season and canned tomatoes when they are not. Flavor with a little wine, fresh or dried herbs (basil, oregano, red pepper flakes), and a parmesan cheese rind, if desired. Use it to make pasta pomodoro, pizza, or meatballs.
Pesto is a raw sauce usually consisting of fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts. However, one of the best things about pesto is that you can virtually make it with any herbs, cheese, and nuts—manchego cheese, kale, and walnuts, for example. Enjoy with pasta, spread on sandwiches, and stirred into vinaigrette.
The French name for cheese sauce is Mornay. It is considered a daughter sauce of béchamel. To make a cheese sauce, you start with a béchamel, then you add lots of grated cheese to the mixture. This is the ideal base for macaroni and cheese or nacho cheese sauce. It’s also addictive when served as a dip alongside broccoli, cubes of bread, or pretzels.
The most American of sauces, barbecue sauce is incredibly easy to make at home. You simply dump all of the ingredients into a saucepan and let simmer until the flavors meld. Crucial components include ketchup, sugar, hot sauce, alcohol, Worcestershire sauce, and spices.
Homemade chocolate sauce is normally a mixture of chopped, melted chocolate and some sort of dairy (cream, almond milk) to thin it out. Drizzle on top of cakes or spoon over ice cream. Yum!
Meat sauce is another word for bolognese. It’s a combination of ground beef (or pork, turkey, or chicken), marinara sauce, and milk. It’s normally slow cooked for a long period of time and is layered into lasagna or stirred into pasta.
Below, you’ll find the necessary tools to make the most scrumptious sauces at home.
What kind of sauce do you make at home?