Sauces à la Carême

One of Carême’s great legacies was the hierarchy he developed for French sauces. Prior to his arrival on the scene there were literally hundreds of sauces in the French culinary canon, many of them absurdly elaborate, containing dozens of ingredients. At Talleyrand’s urging, Carême took on the project of organizing and simplifying them. The result was a system based on four “mother sauces” from which all others were derived. They were:

Allemande (light stock and lemon juice with egg yolks)
Béchamel (milk thickened with a flour-butter roux))
Espagnole (reduced brown stock and tomato sauce)
Velouté (light stock thickened with a flour-butter roux)

This system stood unaltered for 100 years, until August Escoffier arrived on the scene and once again revolutionized French cooking. Escoffier simplified the cuisine still further and revised Carême’s mother sauce list. His version:

Béchamel
Espagnole
Velouté
Hollandaise
Tomato

Escoffier’s list stands to this day, though more than a few upstart chefs have tried to create their own updated, “postmodern” lists. One I saw recently read something like this:

Aioli
Vinaigrette
Buerre Blanc
Demi Glace
Cream reduction

I suppose if the mother sauce system were a popularity contest, these are the five that would probably win in this day and age. Whether they’ll prove as versatile and durable as Carême and Escoffier’s “mothers”, only time will tell.

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9 Responses to Sauces à la Carême

  1. Henry says:

    GREAT post Joe! I’ve had this book for ages but never had the time/patience/ingredients to recreate those lovely sauces… http://www.amazon.com/Michel-Roux-Sauces-Revised-Updated/dp/0847832902/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1352829211&sr=8-1&keywords=michel+roux+sauces

  2. Henry says:

    Incidentally, I’ve always felt that Asian food (at least Chinese) is much more self-saucing – and therefore more economical with time. I don’t know what you think about this…

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Henry! I don’t know Asian food nearly as well as you do. But my experience in the back yard with my big ol’ propane-powered wok would validate what you’re saying. Sauces seem to be part of the cooking process more than they are a separate specialty. I love them myself, though they don’t seems as varied in taste and texture as French ones. Is that fair to say?

      - Joe

      • Henry says:

        I think that’s true, although in a strange way Asian sauces are more ‘moreish, to use a British expression. A berre blanc is definitely seductive, but you wouldn’t want to scoop loads of it into your mouth.

  3. Heather says:

    Hi Joe
    Thanks for that post – short and very informative – my money would be on the pre-modern to stand the test of time – Cheers from Auckland New Zealand :)

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks for checking in, Heather! Hope you’re enjoying the Spring down there, you lucky person you. I’m seeing nothing but frost out my window…it’s depressing! ;)

      - Joe

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