One of the first things chefs learn in culinary school is how to make the French mother sauces. Béchamel, velouté, Espagnole, hollandaise, and sauce tomate are the traditional bases for dishes you know and love, from spaghetti to eggs benedict. But sauce theory extends far beyond the “big five,” because the right combinations can maximize the flavor of any meal. Sauces can be used to:
- Add flavor. Even subtle sauces, like oils and vinegar, can add layers of flavor to an otherwise unexciting meal.
- Add texture. Think chunky salsa, light and airy creme fraiche, or creamy four-cheese sauce.
- Add visual appeal. A little garnish can go a long way. A dollop of chimichurri or drizzle of tahini can dress up a simple dish.
There really is a sauce for everything, but there are a few staple sauces that every home cook should know.
- Marinara. A classic red sauce is nostalgic in ingredients and flavor. Onions, garlic, and fresh or canned tomatoes are all you need to make a homemade marinara for pasta, pizza and meatballs. Take it up a notch by adding herbs, parmesan, or a splash of spicy olive oil.
- Vinaigrette. This dressing is meant for more than just salads. Drizzle vinaigrette on sandwiches, steaks, or even fresh fruits. Remember to use three parts olive oil to one part acid, like citrus juice or vinegar.
- Pesto. This tasty Italian sauce is rich with cheese, nuts, oil and herbs. Basil is the base for classic pesto but can be substituted for spinach or kale. You can also get creative with your nut and cheese combinations, trading pine nuts in for cashews or swapping parmesan for manchego cheese.
- Hollandaise. This sauce might sound fancy, but it’s quite simple to make. The only ingredients are butter and egg yolk – which is why hollandaise is absolutely delicious. Pour it over meats, grilled vegetables, and eggs for a more decadent meal.
- Bechamel. Like hollandaise, bechamel is a mother sauce that is easy to dress up or down. It all starts with a roux (fat and flour cooked together) which is mixed with milk and light seasoning. Pour it over vegetables or pasta all on its own, or use it as a base for an unbelievable mac n cheese sauce.
- Pan sauce. Even if you’re not making gravy, the juices of cooked protein (fish, chicken, pork and beef) can be used to re-season the meat. Just add in some aromatics, citrus or herbs to create a light glaze.
- Chocolate sauce. Is there anything more satisfying than watching vanilla ice cream melt under a mound of hot fudge? High-quality chocolate mixed with full-fat milk will make a mouthwatering topping.
Chef Lynn Michelle is an expert at using sauces to elevate any meal. She can prepare gourmet meals or teach you the secret to making sauces in the comfort of your own kitchen. Give Chef Lynn Michelle a call to learn more about her private chef and cooking class services.