Basic Types of Sauces

In an era in which “value added” has become the battle cry of the foodservice industry, the sauce-products category stands at the ready. Sauces, after all, have been used to add value, interest, texture, and luxurious flavor to foods since long before classical French cooks elevated sauce making to the level of culinary artistry.

Understanding the major categories of sauces how they’re made from scratch, what labor-saving products are available, and what foods they complement gives experts an edge in helping to add value to customers’ menus. For example, just the right sauce added to an ordinary center-of-the-plate item, or to a vegetable or pasta side dish, creates a value-added attraction for which patrons willingly spend more. They leave satisfied that they’ve enjoyed a dish that probably wouldn’t be prepared at home, and the operator nets greater profitability.

Take Stock in Veloute

Like basic white sauce, or bechamel, veloute sauce is generally used as a base for other sauces. Most often served with chicken, fish, veal, or eggs, veloute sauces are stock-based and are thickened with a roux that’s cooked a bit longer, just until it turns a light beige color. Customers preparing veloute sauces from scratch can vary the stocks used to suit different menu applications (e.g., fish stock to prepare sauce to be used on seafood dishes).

Meaty Browns


Brown Sauce

Like white sauces, brown sauces and gravies are thickened with a roux of butter and flour cooked together. For brown sauce, however, the roux is cooked until it just begins to turn brown, adding more fully developed flavor and rich color to the sauce.

In Louisiana cooking, an even darker roux is used; it is cooked until it deepens to a rich red-brown. Liquids commonly used to prepare brown sauces or gravies from scratch are beef and veal stock. As such, brown sauces are best served with dark meats, especially beef and lamb, and duck. They reinforce the taste of the meat and enhance it with additional flavorings. Brown sauces usually are not served with seafood or vegetables. Basic brown sauce can be jazzed up with the following additions:

  • Wine, especially a fortified wine such as Madeira.
  • Minced fresh herbs (e.g., tarragon, parsley, chives, basil, rosemary).
  • Sauteed mushrooms.
  • Chopped tomatoes.

Light Touch

For all menu applications, remind customers that sauces should be applied with a light hand. Their primary function is to enhance the appearance and flavor of the foods on which they’re used. Used too heavily, sauces can mask flavors and spoil presentations. One alternative to presenting sauces atop foods is to offer them on the side. Calorie-conscious customers, in particular, appreciate this presentation.

That’s Italian

Of all ethnic sauces, the Italian category is the most extensive and represents the biggest volume for many experts. Basic tomato sauces, and their variations, are used in an array of menu items and aren’t limited to Italian restaurants alone. Careful menu analysis will reveal which tomato-based sauces to suggest (e.g., plain, with herbs and seasonings, chunky, with meat or without, smooth, thick, thin, etc.).

Tomato-based Italian sauces are popular with meat and poultry dishes, pasta, seafood, and as dips for appetizers such as deep-fried mozzarella. While delicious alone, tomato sauces can also be mixed with most other sauces to create flavor variations and signature effect. Adding a few tablespoons to basic white sauce, for instance, yields a lovely orange-colored sauce that’s good with fish. A combination of tomato and brown sauce is equally delicious with roast beef, and tomato sauce added to a butter sauce (e.g., Bernaise) is great with steaks, veal, or eggs.

Another popular Italian sauce is Alfredo, a creamy white sauce flavored with Parmesan cheese. The namesake sauce in Fettucini Alfredo, Alfredo can also be served with other pastas as well as with vegetables, seafood, poultry, and egg dishes.

1. Butter Sauces

Lemon butter Sauce

Often reserved for special occasions, butter sauces are served with the most festive foods, such as lobster, scallops, and fresh salmon. Although butter sauces can be made quickly, they also demand the most care and can separate if not prepared properly. They are emulsions, or fragile combinations of fat (heated butter) and liquid. If the butter separates from the liquid, the sauce loses its silky texture and becomes watery and unattractive. Popular butter sauces include:

2. Hollandaise

A delicate sauce prepared from scratch by whisking or blending together egg yolks, clarified butter, and lemon juice. Great with poached fish, shellfish, vegetables, and eggs (it’s what makes Eggs Benedict so delicious).

3. Bernaise

A zesty twist on Hollandaise, Bernaise is prepared similarly except the egg-yolk mixture is flavored with tarragon, vinegar, wine, and shallots. Pepper is added as cracked peppercorns that cook in the vinegar and as ground pepper at the end. Great served with broiled fish, steak, or poached eggs.

4. Beurre Blanc

A delicate sauce thickened only with butter (although adding a bit of cream will allow for longer holding time). Other ingredients include finely chopped shallots, white-wine vinegar, and dry white wine. Traditionally served with poached or steamed fish, shellfish, and vegetables. It is also good with poached chicken breasts, and can be stirred into hot cooked vegetables, pasta, or rice.

5. Ethnic Varieties

When it comes to sauces, foodservice customers have a host of value-added convenience products from which to choose, such as sauce and gravy bases, dry mixes, and ready-to-heat-and-serve sauces.

Manufacturers offer options for virtually all traditional sauces as well as for special ethnic and regional varieties.

Among the popular specialty sauces that experts can recommend are:

  • Asian-style sauces such as sweet and sour, spicy Szechuan, stir fry, Oriental barbecue, and teriyaki.
  • Cajun and Creole selections such as spicy brown and hot-pepper sauces.
  • Southern favorites like country-style gravy for regional specialties such as chicken-fried steak.
  • Light sauces such as lemon and herb, seafood, and new low-fat versions of traditional favorites.

All In The Family

The term “sauce” can be applied to virtually any liquid dressing used to enhance the flavor of foods. A sauce is basically a thickened liquid usually stock, milk, cream, melted butter, or wine, but other liquids are sometimes used. The most common thickeners are flour or other starches, and egg yolks.

Some sauces contain no thickeners. They gain body by being reduced or boiled until they are concentrated. Once a liquid is thickened, it needs only seasonings to give it flavor. For cooking applications, sauces can be categorized according to their major ingredients and/or their thickening agent. The major sauce families are: White sauces, Brown sauces, Butter sauces, Italian-style sauces, Specialty sauces.

White Sauce Basics

White Sauce

The simplest of the hot sauces, white sauces can be divided into milk-based sauces and stock-based veloute sauces. Bechamel, the most basic hot white sauce, is a classic French sauce usually made with milk (but sometimes enriched with cream) and a white roux (butter and flour cooked together for thickening). Rich, smooth, creamy bechamel is popular over fish, poultry, and vegetables. Its mild flavor also makes it versatile. Bechamel readily accepts other flavorings, making it the base for a number of other popular sauces, such as: Cheese Sauce Stir in grated and or/shredded cheese to basic bechamel to create a rich, creamy cheese sauce. Cream Sauce Add a small amount of whipping cream to basic bechamel, season with salt, pepper, and, if desired, chopped fresh chives, tarragon, parsley, or basil for a luxurious, distinctive cream sauce.

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