In Escoffier’s world there are sauces, there are small sauces, and then there are Mother Sauces. Everyone knows how important sauces are to French cuisine. The Mother Sauces are those from which all other sauces are derived–and there are endless variations on only 4 mother sauces (some say 5 depending on which century you start from). In fact, there seem to be at least 250 sauce recipes in the Escoffier cookbook!
I love that image of a sauce being a mother. The mother sauces are not the sauces you actually eat or pour over your steak, not the ones that make it to the table. They’re a bit in the background but without them, you got, basically, nothin’. Just like with mothers anywhere. Without them, we’re nothin’.
So, I started with a Sauce Velouté. Professional chefs don’t translate it into English, but if you did, it would be called “velvet or velvety” sauce. You could (boringly) call it a white sauce, which technically it is, but it’s like calling a Christian Dior evening gown a dress. It just doesn’t do the Velouté justice.
Sauce Velouté (adapted from Velouté 101 at the cooking school Escoffier Online)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups white stock (Velouté is traditionally made with veal stock. However, any light stock such as chicken or fish stock is acceptable. The key is that the stock must be made with unroasted bones to keep the light color of the sauce.)
salt and white pepper to taste
Melt the butter until it is frothy. Add the flour and whisk to create a roux. Whisking constantly, allow the roux to cook for a few minutes until the flour loses its raw taste and the roux develops a light golden color. Whisk in the hot stock all at once and stir until the mixture is smooth. Then, add the desired amount of salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for around 20 minutes.
I made a larger quantity than this recipe, using 125 grams of butter, 150 grams of flour, and 2.4 liters of my ordinary white stock. (I hope I did the math correctly, as Escoffier’s restaurant recipe calls for 625 grams of roux and 5.5 liters of stock.)
Escoffier actually instructs you to simmer the Velouté for 1 1/2 hours to rid the sauce of raw flour taste and to concentrate the flavors. So I did. That long simmering time might put you off. But before you nix the idea of trying this sauce, listen to Julia Child, who said you don’t have to simmer your Velouté for more than a few minutes.
Unless, of course, you want a sauce with finesse.