Any true fine-diner can speak to the power of a great sauce. Whether that sauce arrives atop a steak in the form of a flavorful glaze or plays center-stage to a bowl of homemade fettuccine noodles, sauces are key to many of the world’s greatest dishes.

Did you know that most sauces can be broken down into five categories? Just like wine, understanding the type of sauce will help you make a more informed decision whether you’re ordering out or testing your hand in the kitchen. Referred to as mother-sauces–these simple bases act as the foundation for thousands of classic meals.




What it is: A creamy, white sauce that’s thickened slowly, over low heat

To make this sauce, a chef combines a roux (butter and flour) + dairy item, usually cream. This super-sauce is the star of favorite dishes like lasagna and macaroni and cheese.




What it is: A thin, lightly colored sauce flavored by chicken stock

If you’re a lover of roast chicken topped with gravy, you have this sauce to thank. Created using a roux + chicken or fish stock, this sauce accompanies everything from chicken pot pie to shrimp scampi.




What it is: A basic brown sauce flavored by beef stock


Made similarly to the véloute, simply substitute the chicken stock for beef and you’ve got yourself an espagnole sauce. Perfect to make glazes and gravies, you’ll find red wine and mushrooms as common additions to this delightful sauce.



What it is: The foundational sauce for all tomato-based dishes.


The classic tomato sauce accompanies traditional dishes like spaghetti and pizza. It’s flavor is created by combining a roux and tomatoes on the stovetop. Additions like garlic, basil, and onions provide that warm and delicious flavor we cherish.  



The perfect topping for eggs and asparagus, hollandaise sauce may be time consuming, yet completely worth it. A close relative to mayonnaise, this sauce is bound together via an emulsified process using butter, egg yolks, and lemon juice.

An accomplished diner can parse a complicated menu with ease by simply understanding the root of each dish. Why not explore the educational aspect of dining out? It’s a great way to understand the foods we love and try out less familiar foods.


For the highly motivated, test your hand at home:

Béchamel: To create the best mac & cheese

Véloute: For any chicken dish

Espagnole: To top a perfect filet

Tomato: For classic dishes

Hollandaise: To impress brunch guests