An introduction to sauces, including information on the five French "mother" sauces.

introduction to sauces
Sauces are widely used in cooking these days in every type of cuisine from all over the world.

What would pasta be without a delicious tomato or cream-based sauce? Who would eat a typical British roast dinner without any gravy or sauce to accompany it?

Even Chinese cuisine could not do without a variety of sauces, such as soy sauce, oyster sauce or hoisin sauce to make their dishes more appetizing and palatable.

Sauces come in many forms. There are sauces used to pour over certain foods to bring moisture and extra flavour to the meal, other thicker sauces are added to the side of the plate and accompany a cut or few slices of meat. Then there are the sauces that are an integral part of the dish, whilst cold sauces or dressings are used to liven up salads and cold meats.

Sauces are not always savoury. Sweet sauces such as chocolate sauce, butterscotch sauce, brandy sauce or the versatile custard are poured over stodgy desserts in order to add more substance. And, certain fruits are blended and pureed and used to accompany sweet desserts or cooked meats.
Sauces have been around for centuries. During Roman times, sauces were used to hide the flavour and taste of meat that was possibly not as fresh as it should have been. They concocted sauces using an abundance of different spices, seasonings and flavours in order to disguise the real taste of the food.

The base of a sauce is some form of liquid, which could be milk, stock, wine or a vegetable or fruit juice. This liquid is then thickened with a thickening agent such as flour, fat, eggs, cream, arrowroot or cornflour. Some sauces are cooked and then reduced until the required consistency and thickness has been formed.

Sauces can be prepared by whisking, blending or cooking.

The majority of sauces are of French origin and the word "sauce" is actually a French word that means a relish that makes food more attractive.

In modern cooking of French origin, there are five basic sauces that are the basis for nearly every other sauce. These are béchamel or white sauce, velouté or blond sauce, Espagnole or brown sauce, Hollandaise or butter sauce and finally tomato or red sauce. Most other sauces are derived from one of these basic sauces that every cook should know how to prepare.

There are other sauces that do not fall into any of the above categories.

Many people think that sauces are very difficult to make however, they are not. You do need to make time to prepare a sauce and it is best to just concentrate on the sauce and not carrying out other tasks in the kitchen at the same time. A perfect sauce can be made in matter of minutes and all it requires is a little patience, concentration and time.

The sauces that are made by the cooking method usually require constant attention, as you will need to whisk or stir constantly and take care not to burn the sauce or allow it to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Sauces that contain butter and eggs are a little trickier, as sometimes they have a tendency to separate and curdle. It is best to prepare these sauces just before serving the meal, so that they can be made and then served immediately.

Some sauces are usually bought ready made in bottles for example Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and soy sauce and are added to recipes to enhance flavour and add a bit of spice.

Other ready made sauces such as salad cream, mayonnaise and tomato ketchup are added to the side of certain dishes and eaten as a dip.

In this section on sauces we will give you background information and a recipe with helpful tips on how to make a number of the most popular sauces that are used in homemade cooking.

Our collection of sauces

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