making a sauce; tomatoes pasta spoon

Making a Sauce — Basic Cooking Skills

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The creation of a sauce from scratch is a quintessential way to add vibrance to an otherwise bland dish. A picture-perfect sauce can transform your meal into a culinary experience, pulling together all the different elements of a dish into one.

Let’s uncover the basics of sauce making and begin making easy, foundational sauces at home.

This post is part of our Basic Cooking Skills series. Each week we will be doing a deep-dive into one basic cooking skill and a brand new recipe to accompany it to practice that newfound skill. Check back throughout the series for updates and new posts.

The importance of sauce making

The versatility of sauces is not something to be ignored. Sauces add:

  • Flavor
  • Texture
  • Moistness
  • Aesthetic appeal

Generally, a sauce consists of a liquid, a thickener, and seasonings.

Commonly used liquids include milk/cream, broth, and cooking wines.

The most common thickener is a roux (equal parts flour and oil). Starch creates a liquid slurry, though it may not be as flavorful. Egg yolks act as thickening agents for creamy sauces or custards.

Most sauces are created by the process of “reduction,” or cooking down a lot of liquid over heat with combinations of herbs and aromatics. Reducing liquids greatly enhances flavor and increases its thickness so it isn’t too runny. 

simple pan sauce

To flawlessly incorporate a sauce into your dish and jazz up your seared protein, begin with a simple pan sauce.

Sauteing Meat introduces the concept of deglazing a pan after cooking meat to add immense flavor to the dish.

Immediately after sauteing, use the crispy brown bits, or “fronds,” and remaining fat in the pan to serve as the foundation of your pan sauce.

Adding in aromatics, such as garlic or shallots, and spices develops that deep flavor you’re hoping for, followed by deglazing the warm pan with wine, broth, or water.

Simmering this mixture with a little addition of fat (butter or milk) produces a fantastic and easy pan sauce that you can pour over your protein and enjoy as the centerpiece of your meal.

By adjusting the aromatics and spices you can adapt this outline to fit any cuisine.

5 Mother Sauces

There are 5 “mother sauces,” or basic sauces, in French cooking that are starting points for endless other sauces. Without even realizing it, I bet you’ve been making some of these foundational sauces all along 😉

Bechamel

bechamel sauce - fettucine alfredo

A base for cream sauces, consisting of heating milk or cream and thickening with a roux. Melt cheese into the cream for a nice creamy sauce over pasta.

Veloute

veloute gravy sauce - steak potatoes and vegetables on a plate

A white sauce with a base of a lighter stock (chicken, veal, or fish) thickened with a roux. A veloute is the start of many gravies and mushroom sauces.

Espagnole

brown sauce - steak on a plate
  • Very similar to veloute, espagnole is a brown sauce with a base of beef stock with tomato, mirepoix, and a roux thickener. A classic French demi-glace is made from an espagnole and served over darker meats.

Tomato sauce

tomato sauce - goulash and noodles

For a simple tomato sauce, saute onions and garlic and then add LOTS of canned tomatoes and simmer. Use this base to create incredible Italian or Spanish red sauces.

Hollandaise

hollandaise - brunch brisket on rolls

The most unique of the 5 mother sauces, Hollandaise does not rely on reduction or a roux; emulsification is the key word here. Egg yolks act as a binding agent between butter and lemon juice to create a light topping for vegetables or brunch. Hollandaise is very similar to aiolis or mayos.

Materials Needed

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making a sauce pin
making a sauce pin
making a sauce pin

implement your new skill

There is such a depth and richness to sauce-making that, when learned, opens up endless amounts of doors of cooking opportunities. This basic understanding of making sauces serves as the building blocks for almost every sauce imaginable.

Test out your knowledge this week with a new recipe coming on Thursday for an easy weeknight meal! 

Share your favorite sauces to make in the comments below! Mine have traditionally always been marsala (hint hint) and an alfredo — which I now know starts out as a bechamel!

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38 thoughts on “Making a Sauce — Basic Cooking Skills”

  1. Some very good sauces here, I love my tomato sauce, but not so keen on Hollandaise sauce, still I would like to try the other two I’ve never ever heard of them. 😁

  2. This is awesome! The only sauce I ever make homemade is alfredo sauce. I’d love to add more variety though instead of buying it from a jar! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love your simple, direct approach!!! You make me feel like I can cook anything with your guidance.
    I had never heard (or at least remembered) The term “mother sauces” but I like it.
    I might even try making a hollandaise sauce for the first time today because my fridge just broke in last night’s power outage. I think I can use up a whole variety of items with a variety of sauces…

  4. Great post! I love Hollandaise sauce but it always looks so difficult to make! Maybe it’s one of these things that’s actually not hard at all – you just need to be patient and try not to overcook the egg! x

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  6. As usual, you’ve provided a very helpful post and have taught me valuable lessons! Well-made homemade sauces are a real treat and delicacy. I admit I haven’t truly mastered them on my own, though I love tinkering with herbs, spices, and other ingredients in my own sauces. I’ll keep up my efforts with the help of your article and hopefully will keep improving!

  7. I love this! Sauces are one of the first things I learned to cook without a recipe, and it opened a whole world of cooking for me. They can make or break a dish for sure!

  8. Absolutely love this post! I’ve never been much of a cook but nowadays I do appreciate how much money I save by cooking my own meals. I’m still very much learning but tomato sauce is definitely something I’ve mastered recently and it’s one of my favourite go-to options if I don’t feel inspired to cook anything new. Great post!

    Teresa Maria | Outlandish Blog

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  10. I have been trying to make a good hollandaise for so long, I always get something wrong, lol.
    Thank you for sharing, lovely. I have finally made a good tomato sauce and I am so happy I finally got it down!

  11. I’ve only made “white sauce” but I will have to try and make some others. They add so much flavor and seem quite easy to make. Thank you!

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