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:
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:
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.