The Mother Sauces in culinary tradition are the sauces that serve as the base for all other sauces. They all include liquid and a thickening agent of some kind. Know these sauces, and you should be in good shape to make any number of sauces to dress your foods. This decisive list of sauces was determined by two chefs at different times. Marie-Antoine Carême decided that there were four mother sauces in the early 1800s and then in the early 1900s, Auguste Escoffier revised the list, dropping one and adding two more making it a total of five sauces (Béchamel, Velouté, Hollandaise, Brown Sauce/Espagnole and Classic Tomato).
Béchamel traditionally used to be a little more complicated than most recipes for the sauce today indicate. Most cooks make it simply with butter, flour and milk. In a classic rendition of the sauce, you would use butter, flour (the thickening agent) and milk (the liquid), but the sauce would be flavored with onion, cloves, bay and nutmeg. To do this, you would simmer the sauce with an onion piqué – take a whole or half an onion and nail a bay leaf to it using cloves. The flavors would seep into the sauce and the sauce would gently reduce and thicken. While it’s not done very often anymore, it does take a basic Béchamel sauce and elevate it to a new level.