There are foods that are perfect as-is, and there are foods that benefit from being added to. With foundational sauces—sometimes called "mother sauces"—you get both. You can use fully prepared foundational sauces as building blocks for your own signatures, adding value and one-of-a-kind appeal to menus.
Take cream sauce, for instance, or Hollandaise sauce, both useful in their own right, and both ready to be turned into signature-making sauces with the addition of other ingredients and flavors.
In that sense, many sauces and even condiments can be viewed as building blocks for more distinctive applications, from a simple, relatively neutral emulsion like mayonnaise or beurre blanc to a more boldly flavored pesto or demi-glace. Just add different elements to create something new and uniquely your own. Change not only the flavor profile but also the texture, viscosity or even the temperature. That's why they're called foundational sauces.
The beauty of this approach is its simplicity. Start with a few basic foundational sauces, then learn the techniques and methods to vary and customize them. Rather than starting from scratch with seven different sauces, you can adapt one or two foundational sauces in myriad ways, cutting down on waste, inventory, prep time and labor. This strategy lies at the core of cross-utilizing ingredients to create multiple menu items, while enhancing consistency and keeping food costs in line.
The Mother Sauces:
Since Escoffier's time, there have been five classic French mother sauces:
Béchamel Sauce - Also known as "white sauce," this smooth, gently flavored sauce is made from a white (unbrowned) roux with flour, butter and boiled milk, and is usually served with white meats, eggs, and vegetables.
Brown Sauce – Also called Demi Glace or Sauce Espagnole, brown sauce consists of veal or beef stock bound with a brown roux.
Veloute Sauce – This so-called rich white sauce can be made from chicken, veal, or fish stock thickened with white roux.
Hollandaise Sauce - A classic emulsified sauce made with butter and egg yolks as binding agents, seasoned with lemon and cayenne. It is served hot with vegetables, fish, and eggs.
Tomato Sauce - This simple sauce is made with seeded tomatoes, which are stewed with seasonings, garlic and parsley; Italian marinara is a classic version of tomato sauce.
Of these five sauces, demi-glace is very time-consuming to make from scratch, Hollandaise can be tricky, veloute has become somewhat interchangeable with bechamel, and tomato sauce is often used in great quantities for certain types of menus—one of the reasons why Nestlé Professional makes these foundational sauces and more available in high-quality value-added form from CHEF and Minor's.
Modern-Day Mother Sauces
Today any basic sauce can be the building block for another one. Take Alfredo Sauce for instance. This classic cream sauce, adapted for a pasta recipe of the same name, has lots of other applications. Mix with pesto, roasted garlic, or tomato purée to create a sauce variation for pasta or pizza specialties. Add bacon to create carbonara, or fold the sauce together with cooked shrimp or lobster. You can even use Alfredo sauce in lieu of cream sauce or bechamel in a recipe—for instance, in an enhanced version of chicken pot pie.
Marinara Sauce is another excellent basic sauce. Add olives, anchovies and capers for the piquant Naples-style sauce known as puttanesca, or steam mussels and clams in it for an appetizer or pasta topping. It can even be used as the base for a vegetarian tomato soup
Hollandaise and Beurre Blanc (which is similar to Hollandaise but without the egg) are the perfect vehicle for customization: add grapefruit or orange juice and zest; tomato or anchovy paste; capers; chile flavoring; or another savory flavor-builder
A classic Brown Gravy can take oomph from wine or sherry, caramelized onions or garlic, or a dairy product such as sour cream or heavy cream
- Pesto, a traditional garlic-and-basil puree from Italy, has spread far beyond its roots to become a flavor enhancer and even a condiment for a variety of different menu items, including pizza, sandwiches and more; it can be combined with other foundational sauces including Alfredo, cream sauce, vinaigrette, mayonnaise and marinara to create additional uses
- Marsala Sauce is a classic Italian finishing sauce that can be further enhanced with ingredients such as Dijon mustard, additional wine, sour cream, roasted peppers and more.