Having already covered the so-called "mother sauces" of French cuisine, we can move on to the daughter sauces – those derivations from the five mother sauces that can alter and launch them in myriad directions by simply adding an ingredient or two to the core recipe.
But first, a reminder: mother sauces are basic building blocks from which many other sauces can be derived. The original list of four was expanded to five – béchamel, espagnole, velouté, sauce tomate, and hollandaise – in 1903 by Auguste Escoffier, whose Le Guide Culinaire is the go-to Bible for academically-trained chefs the world over.
Today, we’ll take a look at some of the variations on this theme. There are dozens of “daughter” sauces made with a base of the mother sauce and then adding to it. But let’s take a look at at least two daughters from each mother, to get to know the “extended family.”
Daughter sauces from Velouté
Base: chicken or fish stock + flour + butter
“Velvet” sauce starts, as so many French recipes do, with a roux (flour and butter), and then boils the flavour of bones into it. But that’s just the start. There are a good dozen daughter sauces, ranging from simple to more elaborate. Bercy sauce adds white wine, lemon juice, parsley and sautéed shallots to the fish-based velouté. Ravigote sauce can be warm or cold: warm, add Dijon mustard; cold, add a vinaigrette.
One of the most elegant daughter sauces is the Supreme sauce (picture above), to which reduced chicken stock and crème fraiche is added to velouté, perhaps with a touch of lemon. Normandy sauce enriches fish velouté with egg yolk, butter, fish stock and cream – a great addition to steamed mussels.
Daughter Sauces from Bechamel
Base: flour + butter + milk
It’s hard to imagine anything that would qualify as a sauce with fewer components than this, but your standard béchamel is just the starting point. It’s also not as easy to make as it sounds, because the flour can clump and you’ve got to be careful at what temperature you stir this in a saucepan, because if it’s too hot the milk can curdle.
But with your base, you can add crayfish butter and tails, and a bit of cream to make Nantua sauce, which goes beautifully on pasta or with fish quenelles. Soubise sauce simply adds pureed onions to the béchamel. This was originally a sauce thickened by cooking onions slowly over a low heat with rice (the starch leeching out of the rice was the thickener), but at academies these days onions are cooked in beef broth and butter and added to the béchamel mix.
Philippe, the 16th century Duke of Mornay, lends his name to Mornay sauce, which is béchamel mixed with Gruyere cheese. But this is something of a misnomer, because béchamel sauce, in the sense we think of it today, had not yet been invented in the 16th century. It’s likely that Gruyere added to veloute sauce was the original condiment on the duke’s table. And, as the name suggests, mustard sauce simply adds the heat and bite of mustard to the béchamel base.
The most-involved to make of the mother sauces is the meatiest and its derivatives number in the dozens (if not hundreds, if you take into account modern variations). The best-known is surely Bourguignonne sauce, the heart of Boeuf Bourguignonne, which fires up the mother sauce with red wine and shallot and the handy flavour bomb of bouquet garni (bay leaves, thyme and parsley in a cheesecloth, to make them easy to remove).
Chasseur sauce (hunter sauce), ideal over game meat, kicks it up with mushrooms and shallots (is there anything that sautéed onions or shallots don’t improve?) Legend has it that this sauce was invented by the same Philippe de Mornay, of Mornay sauce fame – he’s also credited with Lyon Sauce and Porto Sauce. African sauce adds pizzazz with an assortment of African or Creole seasonings.
Though “tomato sauce” sounds like it should consist of, well, tomatoes, it has the most ingredients of any of the mothers, if you follow Escoffier’s recipe. The daughter sauces are likely to be familiar to anyone who enjoys southern Italian food, even without any chef training. Bolognese sauce adds browned minced meat and sofrito (diced carrots, celery and onions, which is good in just about anything).
Marinara sauce (pictured above) just adds parsley, garlic and oregano. And while Escoffier would not have known what to make of it, even sauces like tikka masala might be considered a daughter of sauce tomate, with Indian spices (ginger, turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon, paprika) turning a French base into a subcontinental delight.
Daughter Sauces from Hollandaise
Base: egg yolks + butter + lemon juice
Hollandaise is the mother of mayo, which is the one sauce I can put on anything. Bavaroise sauce adds horseradish, thyme and cream. Crème Fleurette sauce jazzes things up with crème fraiche. Maltese sauce has orange zest and blood orange juice. Noisette sauce throws in browned butter to the hollandaise. Bearnaise sauce includes vinegar, shallots, tarragon and chervil. Choron sauce is Bearnaise minus tarragon and chervil, but with added pureed tomato.
Paloise sauce is Bearnaise minus tarragon, but with mint. Colbert sauce (as a fan of Stephen Colbert, this may be my favourite) is Bearnaise with added white wine reduction. We might consider Bearnaise a daughter with daughters of its own, a sort of sub-mother sauce … but perhaps it’s easier to just refer to Paloise, Colbert and Choron as “granddaughter sauces?”
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