A quick introduction
When you add homemade sauce to a dish everything changes. It takes food from average to great with one tip of the ladle. The best part is, making sauce at home doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple roux with the addition of seasoning and milk will create a white sauce that’s better than any packet sauce you’ll ever buy.
This page is all about helping the at-home chef learn the basics of sauce. Think of this as your apprenticeship. You can then take the knowledge you learn here and add your own personal flair. Get creative. Be spontaneous. Use fresh, local ingredients combined with a touch of exotic seasoning and you’ll be on your way to sauce perfection.
Let’s get started.
The list below contains common kitchen tools and equipment that will make your life easier. They aren’t essential, but they will help you cook more effectively.
- Pots, skillets and stockpots
- Pressure cooker
- Quality knives
- Whisk, spatulas, spoons,
- Mortar and Pestle
- Scales, measuring cups and spoons
The two pillars of sauce making
1. Flavor enhancement
This doesn’t mean you have to create the strongest flavor. It’s more about using the right mix of ingredients to lift the food you’re serving. A Bolognese sauce made from fresh tomatoes will do wonders for plain old spaghetti. A rich jus will add layers of flavor and depth to a tenderloin steak. Making the ideal sauce for each food type is discussed later in this guide.
2. Appropriate texture
Even the best seasoned sauce will taste awful if the texture isn’t right. If you’ve ever had a grain textured gravy you will know what I’m talking about here! Texture can be altered to your liking by using ingredients that contain adding sugar, fat, starch or protein.
How to add texture to 1 cup of liquid
You have many weapons in your arsenal to make a perfect sauce. These are some of my favourites.
Ideal for adding to fruit (and sometimes vegetable) based liquids to give it a more syrupy, glossy texture. Don’t go overboard though because your ingredients will quickly become overwhelmed by the sweet taste of sugar.
Slowly whisk 2-3 tablespoons of cubed butter into simmering sauce. Butter is an easy way to enrich the flavor and add some comforting fat to the liquid. Adding too much butter will create a greasy, unappealing sauce.
Cream or Milk
Slowly stir in one or two tablespoons of cream until well combined. Cream is suitable for hot or cold sauces. Be careful when adding to very hot liquids or very acidic ingredients as it can break.
The perfect natural emulsifier. Egg yolks, when combined with oil are the building blocks for mayonnaise, aioli, remoulade, vinaigrettes and many more. Introduce oil to the yolks very slowly to ensure they don’t separate.
All purpose, cornflour, potato starch, arrowroot and tapioca starch are all excellent options for creating a slurry. Combine 1 tablespoon of your preferred flour with 1 tablespoon of water then add to your sauce. You’ll need to cook off the sauce for at least a few minutes to allow the liquid to thicken and also to remove the starchy taste of the flour.
Not as commonly available as other ingredients, Xanthan Gum is usually available in specialty stores, online, or some supermarkets. It is a very effective thickening agent that works well to add stability and viscosity. Only very small quantities are needed (about 1/16 of a tsp). Adding more will result in a gluey, unpleasant liquid. It’s best to add this gum to other dry ingredients before combining with liquids to help it distribute thoroughly.
How to make a roux
A roux is made by cooking equal quantities of flour and fat in a pan until the starchy taste of the flour has disappeared.
- Add 1 cup of butter to a saucepan and cook over medium heat until it has melted.
- Whisk in the flour and cook for about five minutes until thickened and creamy.
- White roux: cook about 5 minutes.
- Golden roux (aka blonde roux): cook for 20 minutes.
- Brown roux: cook for 45 minutes
It’s important to understand that starch impacts flavor. Keep this in mind when making sauce as you’ll need to increase seasoning to allow for this. The effect of salt is significantly reduced when starches are used so taste test your sauce to make sure you’ve used enough.
What are the Mother Sauces?
These are the five basic sauces; they’re the building blocks for a huge range of secondary sauces. Once you master these them, you can add additional ingredients with ease. For example, add crushed garlic to mayonnaise to make aioli. Simple!
What’s it made of? White roux with milk or cream added.
If you’ve ever eaten a creamy lasagne or Mac ‘n Cheese you’ll have tasted bechamel. It’s a white creamy sauce that can be whipped up in minutes and adds a lovely mouth-feel to dishes.
What’s it made of? Golden roux with white stock added. The most common stock to use for veloute is chicken stock.
Veloute is another easy-to-make mother sauce that can be turned into secondary sauces like mushroom sauce, herb seafood sauce, white wine sauce and supreme sauce.
What’s it made of? Brown Roux with brown stock added along with tomato puree and mirepoix.
To enhance the flavor of your Espagnole make a demi-glace. This comprises of half espagnole and half brown stock, reduced in volume by half by heating in a pan. Learn more about this sauce by checking out our comparison of demi-glace and gravy.
Espagnole can be used to make additional small sauces such as chasseur sauce, mushroom sauce, charcuterie sauce and bercy sauce.
What’s it made of? Golden roux with tomatoes added
This sauce is similar to the sauce you might have tasted from a jar for pasta. The big difference is the tomato flavor is more pronounced.
Tomato sauce can be used to make Creole sauce and Spanish sauce.
What’s it made of? Egg yolks combined with oil and lemon juice or vinegar.
Hollandaise differs from the other mother sauces because it doesn’t use a roux. It is a silky, rich sauce similar to mayo except that it’s heated.
Related reading: What’s the difference between hollandaise and mayonnaise?
What is a reduction?
A reduction is a glossy, flavor packed sauce that could be a syrup, glaze or sauce. By simply cooking off the excess water, flavors intensify and textures thicken.
High-end restaurants love using reductions for visual appearance: drizzles and patterns added to the plate help lift a dish. They should certainly be included in the home cook’s arsenal of techniques.
To reduce a sauce, heat liquid until boiling (with lid off) then simmer until the water evaporates. You’ll notice the volume reduce. Test the texture and flavor as it continues heating until you’re happy with the taste.
In general, a large pan works better as you’ll have more surface area. This reduces the liquid faster. This isn’t always the case. If you’re reducing a tomato sauce you may prefer a deep pot that you can leave simmering for hours.
8 popular liquids that you can reduce
- balsamic vinegar
- red wine
- fruit juice
- pan sauces
What’s the difference between a demi-glace and a reduction?
These terms tend to be used interchangeably – they both refer to an intense, shiny brown gravy. However, they are not quite the same. A demi-glace takes equal parts of espagnole sauce and brown stock and combines them over heat until reduced by half. The sauce is then strained for impurities.
A reduction is less labor intensive to make. It involves heating a liquid until the water evaporates. This causes the liquid to thicken and intensify in flavor.
3 Tips for transforming a store bought stock base into a demi-glace
- When adding aromatics to your stock, don’t add a lot of fat as it can effect the purity of the sauce.
- Use vinegar to help cut through a stock that is overly salty.
- If you intend to add wine, reduce it by half first before combining so that it doesn’t dilute the sauce.
Infusions allow you to add flavor without spending hours in the kitchen simmering bones and other ingredients to make stocks. Instead, an infusion allows you to steep one or more ingredients in hot water until the flavor infuses into the water.
You won’t get the same intensity of flavor that comes from homemade stock, but that’s not always a problem.
The beauty of infusions is that they’re quick, and they add a depth of flavor. For example, toss some pork scraps into 1 cup of boiling water. Leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse then use as a stir-fry base for that delicious pork stir-fry.
5 popular infusions to add to your cooking repertoire
- Mock beef: Pour one cup of boiling water over 1 finely diced onion, 3 crushed garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon of Vegemite or Marmite. Leave for 10 minutes then strain.
- Tomato: Pour one cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of tomato paste and one crushed garlic clove. Leave for 10 minutes then strain.
- Vegetable: Use your unused vegetable scraps such as potato peels, celery leaves, mushroom stems and anything else available. Pour boiling water over the veges (placed in a saucepan) and add some salt to season. Bring to boil then simmer for 10 minutes then strain.
- Chicken: Add two cups of water and one cup of raw chicken scraps to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes then strain.
- Herb: Pour one cup of boiling water over 1/2 cup of herbs such as chives, cilantro or basil. Leave for 10 minutes then strain.
How to make homemade stock
Making stock will change your life. I promise.
Stock is flavored water and doesn’t sound sexy, but it has the ability to lift many dishes to a new level. The layers of flavor that can be cooked into a simple liquid is mind blowing. The natural flavors of vegetables, the smell of seasoning, the umami that comes from meat, seafood and poultry. It is worth the effort.
A stock in its purist form, is an infusion. Adding the flavor from solids into water. Add bones and other “undesirable” leftover meat scraps to the equation and your sauce now has body. The collagen that gets boiled out of these scraps is essentially gelatin.
Popular building blocks for making stock
1. Bouquet garni
The bouquet garni is a delicate bundle of herbs used to infuse flavor and aroma into stock. It commonly includes thyme, bay leaf and sage, or parsley. The herbs can be tied together with string or bound inside a layer of leek. You don’t have to tie them, but it makes it easier to fish them out at the end.
If you don’t have any baking twine in the kitchen, another option is to use teabag string as it is made from food grade material. You can see from the picture below, it does a good job of holding the bouquet garni together.
A mix of vegetables usually consisting of onion, celery and carrots that are diced and cooked until tender.
A sofrito is commonly used in Italian and Spanish dishes – it combines onions, pepper and garlic as a starting point for stocks and also soups.
Vegetable stock recipe
Makes 4 cups
- 1 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 onion
- 1 celery stalk
- 2 carrots
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 bouquet garni (sprigs of thyme, bay leaves and sage tied into a bundle)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 cups water
- Add oil to a saucepan and heat on med-high. Toss in vegetables and garlic for 5 minutes until softened.
- Add the wine and bring to boil. Allow liquid to reduce by half.
- Add bouquet garni, seasoning and water. Simmer for 40 minutes.
- Strain out the liquids into a suitable container and throw away the left over veges and herbs. Cool the stock then add to refrigerator until needed.
Homemade stock can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for 4-6 months.
You can use this vegetable stock as a starting point to make a wide range of other stocks. Replace a cup of water with tomato paste to create a tomato stock. Or add some pumpkin and apple peel during the vegetable cooking step for some additional flavor. Why not add some ginger instead of the bouquet garni along with some soy sauce to create an oriental stock? All great options.
How to Deglaze a Pan
Have you ever roasted a chicken only to scrape and toss out the leftover residue stuck to the bottom of the pan. Maybe you’ve done the same when frying a steak? These remaining morsels are packed with flavor and can easily be turned into a delicious gravy.
Once you’ve removed the main piece of meat, place the pan over a medium-high heat and add about one cup of liquid. Although you can use water, wine, verjuice or stock works better.
You’ll use this technique frequently – check out the next recipe below that required deglazing.
Bone Stock Recipe
- 6lb beef bones
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ¾ cup red wine
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 carrot, sliced
- 2 celery stalks
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- 1 bouquet garni
- 1 gallon cold water
- Preheat oven to 425°F
- Place bones into a stockpot and cover with cold water. Heat on high until boiling then discard water.
- Add bones to roasting pan and brush with oil. Roast for half an hour, turn the bones and resume cooking for another 20 minutes. If the meat starts to burn then stop cooking.
- Pop the bones into the stockpot and set aside.
- Pour wine into the pan and deglaze then pour over the bones in the stockpot. Add the rest of the ingredients and water that’s sufficient to cover all the ingredients. There is no need to add all the water if it isn’t needed.
- Bring the pot to a boil then reduce to a simmer for at least 6 hours (don’t stir). You’ll have the lid on the pot but you may need to have a little gap to top the liquid boiling over.
- Strain the stock into a container and toss out the leftover solids.
Homemade stock can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for 4-6 months.
How to make jus
A sauce doesn’t have to be thick to be good. A jus is a French term for a thin sauce that is made from meat juices. It’s a flavorsome sauce as the meat flavors have intensified.
Although jus is very tasty when served with beef, it can be used in other creative ways such as pouring over ravioli.
Red wine jus
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 1 onion diced
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 3 cups beef bone stock (see above recipe)
- salt to taste
- 1 Tbsp butter
- Heat oil in a skillet then cook onions until caramelised.
- Add wine and rosemary then bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid reduces by half.
- Pour in stock and reduce by half.
- Season with salt and then strain through a cheese cloth or fine sieve.
- Add back onto heat again and bring to boil. Remove from heat and stir through butter.
Fruit and Vegetable Purees
Compared to making stock, purees are a cinch. Get creative and turn combinations of fruit or veges into either liquid or thick purees. They can be added to sauces, dressings or left on their own.
Ideally you’ll need a blender to make a puree, although you can use a sieve and manually force the food through the holes. I recommend the first option!
Pea Puree Recipe
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch peas until tender.
- Blitz the peas in a blender with a dash of water until smooth (2 minutes). You may need to add a little more water as you blitz to get a nice thick puree.
- Push peas through a cheese cloth or strainer then add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the bowl of pea puree to an ice bath to speed up the cooling process. This results in a lovely green puree.
3 Tips for the perfect puree
- Add a dash of lemon juice to purees to enhance the freshness of the ingredients.
- Berries make excellent syrupy sauces thanks to their high sugar content.
- Purees made with high starch vegetables like parsnip or potato will be very smooth but need liquid added or they can be gluey and unpleasant.
It’s hard to top sauces made from chilli, herbs and other greens for aromatic vibrancy. Green sauces work best with freshly picked ingredients. Armed with a mortar and pestle and some common herbs, you’ll be able to create a dizzying array of green sauces.
How to make pesto
- 3 cups of basil
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese
- Grind 1 cup of basil with garlic until it turns into a paste. Continue adding basil until it has all be ground.
- Add pine nuts and salt and grind until combined.
- Slowly add olive oil while grinding until it’s all added.
- Mix in cheese and serve.
- ½ cup parsley (finely chopped)
- 4 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup cold water
- 2 Tbsp oregano
- 2 ½ Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- salt to taste
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- Combine all ingredient in a small bowl then add to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight before serving.
Related reading: What’s the difference between salsa verde and chimichurri?
Curries are hugely popular around the world, especially Britain, Thailand, Japan, India and China. Although some curries like Vindaloo pack a punch, there are plenty of less intense curries. They all tend to have complex flavors and, often, the sauce in curries take centre stage in the dish.
Although curry sauces are diverse, there are some consistencies in technique when making them. Initially an aromatic base is slowly cooked until tender. Often, spices are added in the early stages of cooking the dish prior to adding liquids.
Tikka Masala Sauce
Makes 3 cups
- 1 ½ Tbsp butter
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp paprika
- ¼ cup cream (heavy)
- 2 garlic cloves
- salt to taste
- Heat 1 Tbsp butter in a pan on med-high heat then toss in garam masala and cook for 1 minute.
- Add marinara sauce, water and paprika and boil for 5-7 minutes on low-med heat.
- Add the cream and leftover ½ Tbsp of butter and cook for a further 1 minute. Add salt to taste.
A condiment can refer to extras that add flavor to your dish such as salt and pepper or olives. In this guide, we’re only interested in looking at sauces.
10 Popular Condiments
- Tartar sauce
- Soy sauce
- BBQ sauce
- Fish sauce
Instead of going into detail about condiments, I suggest you check out this mayonnaise guide for a detailed guide on making a selection of silky, creamy sauces.
A slurry is an excellent way to add some body to your sauce at the end of the cooking process. When using a slurry, you’ll add a starch without fat to thicken your sauce prior to serving. A roux is similar, except that it had fat (such as butter) added and is incorporated at the beginning.
How to make a slurry
To thicken 1 cup of sauce…
- Add 1 tablespoon of corn flour to a small bowl.
- Pour a tablespoon of cold water into the flour and mix until combined.
- Whisk the cornflour paste into the sauce you want to thicken.
A general rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon of flour for every cup of liquid you want to thicken.
Basic stir fry sauce recipe
Makes about ½ cup
- ½ teaspoon corn flour
- ½ cup chicken stock
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¾ teaspoon soy sauce
- Add corn starch to a bowl and slowly stir in the rest of the ingredients until well combined.
- Add stir fry sauce to vegetables once they are cooked. Allow the sauce to come to a boil to ensure the corn flour cooks through.
Variations of stir fry sauce
Using the above basic stir fry sauce, you can create many alternative sauces such as:
- Kung Pao: Add 2 tablespoons of chilli garlic sauce and 2 teaspoons of oyster sauce.
- Thai Red Curry: Add 2 teaspoons of Thai red curry paste and also add a little extra sugar. Once the sauce thickens toss in a splash of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime juice.
- Sweet and Sour: Add an extra 2 ½ tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar.
How to make a simple syrup
A simple syrup is not only simple to make, but also a versatile companion in the kitchen. It can be used for cocktails, sauces or to finish a dessert.
A simple syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 month so you can make this element in bulk, ahead of time, and pull it out as required.
Makes: 2 cups
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
- Add the water and sugar to a small saucepan and heat on low-medium until the sugar dissolves.
- Increase the heat to high and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool before refrigerating.
Making homemade sauce adds an extra step to your meal – many look at sauces as an unnecessary inconvenience. But adding a silky gravy or reduction can raise a dish from good to great. For most, you won’t have time to make a sauce every time you cook. It’s something I reserve for those nights when you’re in the mood to provide the ideal meal.