The Sauce

We all come from different walks of life. Yet there is one thing we all have in common – we need to eat. What we eat, how we get our food, how we prepare the food is an individual choice. I confess, at one time my choice was frozen pizza.

I have since come to know and appreciate the Joy of Cooking both the book and the culinary adventure. I’m going to share one of those adventures with you now. Of the vast landscape of cooking I’m going to focus on one small yet vital aspect – the sauce.

It is my fervent hope that once you understand the importance of the sauce you will expand your own culinary journey. My research comes from the book Sauces by James Peterson.

Close your eyes and picture a mound of fluffy, white, mashed potatoes. MMMMM. Now see it with streams of golden gravy running down the channels. Truly, it is tastier with the gravy. The gravy is the sauce.

Sauce is liquid food. It is not meant to be eaten by itself. It accompanies another food item. However, there are thousands of sauces that can be made. How do you distinguish them? One way to categorize sauces are Brown, Blonde, White, Red and Butter. Another way is the Mother Sauces of French cooking – Espagnole, Béchamel, Veloute, Tomat and Hollandaise.

Milk mixed with roux gives us Béchamel sauce. Blonde Stock with roux makes Veloute. A roux is flour cooked in hot fat. The roux binds the ingredients.

A stock is made from boiling bones and vegetables for a long period to remove the water and increase the flavor. Let’s look at the Mother Sauces.

Béchamel sauce

Béchamel, as we saw, has a milk base. Add cheese and you get Mornay sauce.  

Espagnole – Does this look familiar? Similar to gravy. It’s made from beef bones.

Velouté – These are blonde sauces. They use a stock made from chicken, veal or fish bones.

Chicken Velouté

Sauce Tomat – made from tomatoes.

Hollandaise – One of the most difficult sauces to make. And a good example to note that sauces are constructed. You add layer upon layer of ingredients, tasting each step of the way. You build your sauce with sight, sound, flavor, knowledge and trial and error.

A photo from the production of “Martha’s Cooking School” in New York on Monday, May 7, 2012. Photo: David M. Russell/MSLO

How do you make a mother sauce? We start with a roux. The roux was first introduced into French cooking in the 17th Century. To create a roux, you add flour to hot fat. The ration is 1 to 1.  Melt 2 tbls spoons butter. Heat the butter. Then add 2 tbls of All Purpose flour on low heat. Begin to mix them.

The starch in the flour has to open up in order to make a sauce. Otherwise you get lumps of uncooked flour. The hot fat cooks the flour and opens the starch. Once you open the starch you can add hot stock which will blend with the flour to create a basic sauce.


Sauce Espagnole was developed in 18th Century France. In this version we first heat in oil adding a mixture of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery – what we call a mire poix. Then we had the flour. Technically this is called an aromatic roux because you are adding something to the roux – in this case the vegetables.

Then a tablespoon of tomato paste for colour and a bit of flavour. Now that the flour has been cooked you can begin to add the liquids.  A little dark beer or red wine.

Then we add heated beef stock in stages. We use heated beef stock so as not to bring down the temperature of the mixture. We maintain an even consistency. We add the stock in increments so we can maintain control. Stirring constantly using the wooden spoon and your hand to feel the texture changing.

Finally bring it to bubbly – add herbs and spices. Not too much salt. As the sauce is reduced the salt flavor intensifies so wait until the end to add salt. Remember you boil away water but not the flavor. Let it simmer and voila – your Sauce Espagnole is ready.

When you make your own sauce you are in control – not Knorr-Swiss. You know what ingredients are going in. You limit the amount of sodium through tasting. It allows you to work with flavours, textures and color more than any other style of cooking. You elevate a ho hum meal into a Michelin 3 star. I urge you this weekend to try it. Investigate some sauce recipes, buy the necessary ingredients (and even some adventurous ones). Then, with wooden spoon in hand and your favourite apron, turn on the heat and begin to have fun.

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