9 Classic Sauce Recipes Every Cook Should Master

Updated 06/14/18
Product Disclosure

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 other 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 preservatives and additives. 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.

Béchamel

Béchamel in a lasagna
Half Baked Harvest

This is the one mother sauce 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 it over vegetables to make a gratin.

Try this Half Baked Harvest recipe.

Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette in a salad
Minimalist Baker

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, honey, Dijon, and spices.

Try this Communal Table recipe.

Marinara

Marinara Sauce with fried cheese
Spoon Fork Bacon

Onions, garlic, and tomatoes are all you need to make a thick marinara sauce. Use fresh tomatoes when they’re in season and canned tomatoes when they’re not. Flavor with a little wine, fresh or dried herbs (basil, oregano, red pepper flakes), and a Parmesan rind, if desired. Use it to make pasta Pomodoro, pizza, or meatballs.

Try this Spoon Fork Bacon recipe.

Pesto

Pesto on cheese toast
Half Baked Harvest

Pesto is a raw sauce usually consisting of fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan, 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 a vinaigrette.

Try this Half Baked Harvest recipe.

Barbecue

Barbecue Sauce on a pulled pork sandwich
Half Baked Harvest

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.

Try this Half Baked Harvest recipe.

Pan Sauce

pan sauce with a roasted chicken
Stuck in the Kitchen

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 the protein’s juices and seasoned with spices (e.g., mustard, black peppercorns). Next, liquid (e.g., 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.

Try this Stuck in the Kitchen recipe.

Mornay

Mornay cheese sauce with tomatoes
Half Baked Harvest

The French name for cheese sauce is Mornay. It’s 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; it’s also addictive when served as a dip alongside broccoli, cubes of bread, or pretzels.

Try this Half Baked Harvest recipe.

Bolognese

pasta with Bolognese
I am a Food Blog

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.

Try this I am a Food Blog recipe.

Chocolate Sauce

Chocolate Sauce
Melanie Makes

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 cake, or spoon over ice cream. Yum!

Try this Melanie Makes recipe.

Shop the tools you'll need:

Calphalon Non-Stick 2-Piece Fry Pan Set
Calphalon Non-Stick 2-Piece Fry Pan Set $50 $50
Shop
Le Creuset Wood Scraping Spoon
Le Creuset Wood Scraping Spoon $25
Shop
Ouddy Stainless Steel Whisk, Set of 3
Ouddy Stainless Steel Whisk, Set of 3 $11
Shop
Cuisinart 8-Cup Food Processor
Cuisinart 8-Cup Food Processor $58
Shop

And now, four healthy one-pot pasta recipes to try this week. 

Related Stories