Master the classic French Sauce

Once you’ve mastered béchamel sauce, you’ll be well on your way to a whole new world of sauces…. Like velouté, hollandaise, sauce tomate and espagnole!

1. Béchamel

30g butter

2 heaped tablespoons plain flour

500ml hot milk

Sea salt

White pepper

A little grated nutmeg

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan set over a low to medium heat, then stir in the flour
  • Mix them together until the flour and butter come together in a ball, then keep stirring for another 30 seconds
  • Pour in a little splash of milk, then stir it through until incorporated
  • Repeat this, stirring then whisking in the hot milk a little at a time, until you have a thin but smooth liquid in the pan.
  • Then increase the heat to medium, and using a wooden spoon, stir continuously as the mixture comes to the boil. Keep stirring for a further minute on the boil as the sauce thickens.
  • The sauce is ready when it coats the back of the spoon (as shown). Taste and season with the sea salt, pepper and a little grating of nutmeg before using.

2. Velouté

Velouté is a very simple member of the five French mother sauces. It’s often served with fish, steamed vegetables and pasta. It is used as a base to make many different sauces, like white wine sauce, sauce supreme, sauce Normandy and sauce allemande. Basic velouté is much like a béchamel, created by starting with a roux, but instead stock is used rather than milk.

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 240ml beef or chicken stock
  1. Create the roux by first melting the butter in a saucepan (taking care not to boil it). Remove from the heat and add the flour, whisking until completely free of any lumps.
  2. While still off the heat, gradually add the stock, stirring constantly until the mixture is completely blended and smooth.
  3. Return to the heat and stir until the sauce boils and thickens. Once the sauce starts to boil, reduce the heat and cook for a further minute to cook off the starch in the flour.

3. Sauce tomate

Sauce tomate came to the French from the Italians with a whole lot of other techniques and recipes. Traditionally, the difference between sauce tomate and its Italian counterpart is that the French thicken it with a roux while the Italian tomato sauce is thickened by slow reduction. Today it’s a matter or preference, but this version is quick and delicious. The addition of green peppers makes it a deeper, richer sauce.

  • 1kg of plum tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 green peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2tbsp of red wine vinegar
  • 1tsp of sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat the oil and add the onions and green pepper. Over a medium heat, soften for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and continue to cook for four minutes more or until all the veg has softened well.
  2. Add the crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar sugar, and season. Simmer on a very low heat without a lid until the sauce has thickened to a jam-like consistency, stirring now and then.
  3. Make a good batch of this sauce and split between two or three freezer bags. The bags of sauce can then be kept in the fridge or frozen ready to be added to dishes when required.

4. Espagnole


Espagnole, or ‘brown sauce’, is made from simmering mirepoix (a blend of onion, carrot and celery), tomato puree, herbs, and beef stock. It's also the starting point for the demi-glace, a rich and deeply flavourful sauce that is traditionally served with red meats. Traditionally, a brown roux is used to thicken this sauce, which gives a rich and nutty aroma, Roasted veal stock is traditionally used, but beef stock works fine with modern versions.

  • 225g butter
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped coarsely
  • 1 small onion, chopped coarsely
  • 1 stick celery, chopped coarsely
  • 50g flour
  • 1L beef stock, hot
  • 50g tomato puree
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • Ground black pepper
  • Bouquet garni
  1. Over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the carrots, onions, and celery in the melted butter until the veg becomes translucent.
  2. Sprinkle in the flour lightly and evenly and stir until the flour is fully mixed into the melted butter. Allow the mixture to cook and thicken into a roux, about one to two minutes.
  3. Whisking constantly, add the hot beef stock and tomato purée. Add the garlic, peppercorns and bouquet garni and simmer uncovered for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bouquet garni.
  4. Split the sauce into two or three freezer bags and add to your sauces when required.

5. Hollandaise

10ml lemon juice (a small squeeze)

2 egg yolks

150g cold butter, cubed

Pinch sea salt

Keep: a cup of cold water to hand

  • Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl
  • Add the lemon juice and egg yolks, and whisk until just foamy
  • Add the butter, one or two cubes at a time, and whisk until incorporated
  • Continue until you have used all the butter and you have a thick, pale sauce.
  • Season with sea salt, taste and decide if you want to add more lemon juice, then serve.


  • If the sauce looks like it is about to split or is getting too thick too quickly, take it off the heat, add a teaspoon or two of cold water, then continue to whisk.