Sauce Espagnole Recipe: How to make Escoffier’s Famous Mother Sauce
In today’s blog post, we explore a cornerstone of the French kitchen: Today we talk sauce. More to the point, we talk Sauce Espagnole – a classic brown sauce and one of the famous mother sauces of the French kitchen.
Sauce Espagnole – A mother of a sauce!
Sauce Espagnole – or Spanish Sauce if you will – is, somewhat ironically, an absolute classic of the French kitchen. A seemingly basic and classic brown sauce by appearance, it is in reality a work of art and a culinary building block from which a number of other sauces can be made.
In this blog post – part two in a series on stock and sauce making – we explore the history and foundation of this classic French mother sauce and we learn how to turn a simple beef stock into an intense powerful sauce that can be used as is in its own or as a base for a number of other famous French sauces including Bordelaise and even demi-glace, King of French sauces (but that’s another post).
What is a mother sauce, you ask? Don’t worry, we’ll cover not only that but also the background and history of French sauces as a whole in the course of this post! Before we get started, though, make sure you have truly great beef stock at hand, preferably the one we made in part one of our sauce-making series! All set? Great, now let’s talk a bit of history!
A brief history of sauce-making
The art of sauce making is probably about as old as the art of cooking itself. For as long as man has known that he could transform sturdy vegetables or tough cuts of slain critters into sustenance by boiling them in water over a fire, he has probably also known that said water would afterwards be imparted with flavor and nutrition. Such sauces were probably not much to blog about by today’s standards, but close your eyes for a minute and imagine the glee that erupted through the village when for the first time, Neolithic Man cried out “I have made Sauce Porcupine!”
The art of sauce making eventually evolved and like so many other things in this lovely culinary world, sauces were explored, built upon and perfected in the kitchens of France. During the middle ages and onwards, hundreds if not thousands of sauces were created in French kitchens using a mixture of local ingredients and now somewhat readily available exotic spices. Order was needed and order came in the shape of two champions of their trade. Champions who, some hundred years apart, laid the foundation for every iconic sauce that we know and love today.
One was French chef and culinary mastermind Marie-Antoine Carême who in the early 19th century was the first to organize all French sauces into groups based on four so-called Mother Sauces. The other was Georges Auguste Escoffier – the arguably most famous and renowned chef of the 20th century – who some hundred years later stirred up Carême’s order a bit, added a fifth mother sauce and codified the five mother sauces in recipe form in his 1903 master piece “Le Guide Culinaire“.
Escoffier – King of Chefs, Chef of Kings
Born in 1846 in Villeneuve-Loubet, a humble village in Southern France, Escoffier would throughout his lifetime rise to become arguably the world’s first true celebrity chef. Chef, restaurateur and culinary writer by trade, Escoffier was a veritable master of his trade and single-handedly responsible for modernizing, popularizing and codifying traditional French cuisine cooking methods, including sauce making, into what many of us today know as haute cuisine.
Auguste Escoffier, King of Chefs – Photo credit: Wikimedia, Public Domain
Throughout his professional career, Escoffier worked tirelessly to perfect, evolve and promote French cuisine. This happened mainly through the introduction of organized discipline in his kitchens in such prominent locations as the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo, The Savoy Hotel in London, the Ritz and the Carlton. However, it certainly also took place through his greatly respected food writings including the highly regarded and oft-cited “Le Guide Culinaire” – known as “A Guide to Modern Cookery” or “The Escoffier Cookbook” in English (online version available here), containing thousands of recipes as well as a tome of knowledge regarding basic principles of cooking, ingredients and kitchen techniques.
Oddly enough, most of Escoffier’s work was based on and heavily influenced by the work of his predecessor Carême. However, Escoffier’s main achievement – and the cause of his culinary demi-god status – was to modernize and simplify Carême’s quite elaborate style and add strict kitchen management and discipline on top, thus making haute cuisine accessible to and respected by the masses. In a strange twist of fate, Escoffier’s tireless work eventually earned him his now famous moniker “King of Chefs, Chef of Kings”, a moniker originally coined and intended for Carême.
My American version of Escoffier’s “Le Guide Culinaire” – A tome of constant inspiration…
While long gone, Escoffier remains highly respected and influential even in today’s culinary world. His techniques, teachings and spirit live on in chefs and professional kitchens across the globe and in his recipes, including his perhaps most famous of basic recipes: the five iconic mother sauces of modern French cuisine.
Escoffier’s Heritage: The five mother sauces of French Cuisine
The French mother sauces are called mother sauces for a reason. They are the very base from which other sauces are born. In other words, they constitute the five basic sauces of French cuisine from which a plethora of other so-called daughter or derived sauces can be made through addition of ingredients and extra labour. For example, the mother sauce Bechamel through the simple addition of cheese becomes Sauce Mornay, a derived sauce.
This fundamental concept is so incredibly simple yet so incredibly diverse and complex that centuries down the line, these basic mother sauces are still considered mandatory curriculum in culinary school and are still commonly prepared in professional and home kitchens alike. Heck, chances are that most of us have produced numerous mother sauces and derivatives in our lifetime – without even knowing!
Now, without further ado, the five, famous mother sauces, according to Escoffier, are:
A simple and quite bland white sauce produced by whisking milk into a white roux of equal parts flour and butter. A basic béchamel can be served as is, seasoned up with herbs or spices, used as a base for dishes such as Lasagna og Croque Monsieur or transformed into derived sauces such as Mornay or Mustard Sauce.
Sauce Tomate, as the name suggests, is a basic tomato sauce seasoned with bay leaves, thyme, garlic, that is, rather nontraditional, thickened with a roux and seasoned with salt pork belly. Pork in tomato sauce? You’ve gotta hand it to the French!
Sauce Hollandaise is the only mother sauce not thickened with a roux. It is also the mother sauce that most home chefs find the most difficult to prepare. A Hollandaise is a basic hot emulsion in which warm clarified butter is carefully whipped into tempered egg yolks seasoned with salt and lemon juice. Hollandaise is usually served as an accompaniment for fish or egg dishes and form the base of many rich and creamy derived sauces including Sauce Mousseline and Sauce Bearnaise, the King of Steak Sauces.
A velouté, French for velvet, is a very basic sauce made by whisking a light stock – usually chicken or fish – into a blonde roux of equal parts flour and butter. As the velouté obviously takes its main flavor from the stock used, it is hence referred to by the name of the main ingredient, e.g. chicken velouté or fish velouté. Velouté is popular on chicken and seafood and as a base for a number of derived sauces including Sauce Suprême and Sauce Ravigote.
Many of us have probably made Mother Sauces without even knowing thereof. Your classic Christmas Gravy, for example, is nothing but a velouté – sometimes heavily fortified with cream!
And then, of course, there’s the star of the show: Sauce Espagnole!
Sauce Espagnole Recipe: How to make Sauce Espagnole?
Sauce Espagnole is a basic and intense brown sauce made by whisking dark beef stock into a dark roux, then simmering with a classic mirepoix of aromatic vegetables and a bouquet garni until greatly reduced, thick and powerful in taste and aroma. For the sake of presentation and taste, Sauce Espagnole is usually laced with tomato or tomato concentrate to produce a reddish-brown, lightly sweet and incredibly aromatic powerfully beefy sauce.
The making of Sauce Espagnole – It’s not a pretty process, but the results are stunning
And that’s sauce Espagnole in a nutshell, for you… Before we get to the actual recipe, though, let us take a minute or two to address the obvious elephant in the room… The decidedly Spanish name of this classic French sauce! Even with all this entertaining and mildly amusing story-telling going on, you may still wonder why on earth, a classic French sauce has become known by the label Sauce Espagnole, or Spanish sauce.
While all culinary observers agree that the sauce is decidedly French, opinions on the origin of the name differ. Louis Diat, one supposed creator of Vichyssoise soup claims, for example that Spanish chefs working for Louis XIII’s bride Anne insisted that Spanish tomatoes be used to enrich the classic brown sauce of France, hence naming the creation in their honor: Sauce Espagnole.
Auguste Kettner, former chef of Napoleon III, on the other hand, argues that during a raging French obsession with Spanish culture and cooking, Sauce Espagnole evolved as a French take on a Spanish ham-based sauce, only substituting beef for ham as French hams were apparently inferior to those of Spain.
Regardless of origin, Sauce Espagnole is a true classic of the French kitchen, a must-have basic culinary skill and an absolutely perfectly flavorful sauce that should be mastered by any home cook and professional chef alike. So, let’s cook some up, shall we?
- 2 liters dark beef stock
- 1 carrot diced finely
- 1 stalk celery diced finely
- 1 small onion diced finely
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- 1 leek leaf (the green top part)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon beef fat (can substitute butter)
- Add a teaspoon of beef fat to a sauce pan and set over medium heat.
- Add carrots, celery and onion to beef fat and fry for a couple of minutes till fragrant.
- Add tomato paste and fry for another couple of minutes.
- Pour in beef stock and add bay leaves, thyme and leek.
- Raise heat to high and let stock come to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat back down to medium and allow to reduce at a low boil for about an hour or until reduced by about half.
- Strain and set liquid into a bowl, making sure to press down on the solids as you do to release as much flavor as possible, then discard the solids.
- Return sauce pan to medium heat and add remaining tablespoon of beef fat.
- Once fat has melted, stir in flour with a whisk to form a basic roux.
- Cook roux, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn, for about 5-10 minutes until it develops a nutty aroma and a redish-brown color.
- Carefully an gradually stir in warm beef stock mixture whisking constantly to dissolve any lumps that may occur
- Bring sauce to a boil, back heat down to low and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
- If serving the Sauce Espagnole as is, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over beef.
- If you plan to create a derived sauce, hold back the seasoning until your final results have been achieved.
I've always found straining a thickened sauce a bit cumbersome, so I make the reduction before the roux, then bring them together and let simmer until the flavors have melted.
How to serve and use Sauce Espagnole in cooking
Sauce Espagnole on its own, is a rather strong, powerfully beefy concoction that obviously goes well on beef. You can easily use your creation to top a steak or slices of roast. I wouldn’t blame you, I’ve been known to do so myself, you see.
However, in traditional French cooking, Sauce Espagnole is seldom used on its own as it is deemed too strong a flavor. Instead, it is often used as a base for other sauces in which the rich beefiness is balanced out by other flavors.
Sauce Espagnole in all her glory!
One very popular application for Sauce Espagnole is Bordelaise in which a reduction of red wine, shallots and thyme is whisked into the Sauce Espagnole to form an intense, basic red wine sauce. Other popular derived sauces include sauce Chasseur (Hunter’s sauce), i.e. Sauce Espagnole with shallots, mushrooms, herbs and cream. … And, of course, the almighty Demi-Glace – a slow reduction of equal parts Sauce Espagnole and dark beef stock, reduced by half to form a thick, sticky and intensely beefy glace.
From Sauce Espagnole to Demi-Glace – keep your eyes peeled for Part III of our sauce adventure
Demi-Glace, to me, is the epitome of the French sauce kitchen, the king of sauces – and the subject of the next and final part of this sauce series. Keep your eyes peeled in the future for a guide on how to make demi-glace.