- Béchamel. This classic milk-based white sauce was named after Louis de Béchamel, chief steward to Louis XIV. It's composed of three main ingredients: flour, butter, and milk. The thickness of this cream sauce depends on the ratio of flour and butter to milk: the more milk, the thinner the sauce. It's usually served with eggs, fish, steamed veggies or poultry, or pastas, like macaroni and cheese.
- Velouté. This sauce is made just like béchamel, only milk is swapped for stock. Whether it's made from chicken, veal, or fish stock, velouté is typically not flavored with extra seasonings, and it's regularly used on veal, eggs, fish, steamed vegetables, poultry, or pastas.
- Espagnole. A brown stock-based sauce that may sound Spanish but is actually French in origin. Espagnole includes rich meat stock, browned vegetables, browned roux (a butter and flour mix), plus herbs and tomato paste. Unlike velouté, though, it's served mainly with roasted meats.
- Hollandaise. Egg yolks and fat, usually butter, are the basic ingredients for this yellow emulsified sauce. Like mayonnaise, this rich, creamy sauce tends to top eggs, vegetables, light poultry, or fish.
- Tomato. Whether it's made with raw, stewed tomatoes or a tomato paste, tomato-based sauce is generally used on pasta, fish, vegetables, veal, poultry, breads, and dumplings.
This list is still up for contention today, as still others believe that different sauces (like allemande, the egg-enriched velouté sauce, and vinaigrette) belong in the category of "mother sauce." How many of these have you made at home or sampled at a French restaurant?