Published in IWFS Food &  Wine Journal October 2015


Our founder’s voice: on sauces

Extracts from A Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy  by André Simon. 

Compiled by Prof. Alan F. Harrison

                              In England there are sixty different religions, and only one sauce.   

                                      Attributed to PRINCE FRANCESCO CARACCIOU.     Google 

     'SAUCE' is one of those French words that came over with the Normans and remains unchanged to this day. It still retains its original meaning of a relish to make our food more appetizing, but, whilst that is the only meaning of 'sauce' in France, the Elizabethans took 'sauce' out of the field of gastronomy, in England, and endowed it with a new meaning: a refreshingly impudent rejoinder was in a 'saucy' manner 'saucily' said; petulance became 'sauciness'; an impertinent fellow a 'saucebox'. And in England to-day 'sauce' is still used in the jocular and vernacular mood in the 'None of your sauce', which would be quite the wrong way to decline the bread-crumbs-soaked-in-milk mess proffered with roast chicken by well-meaning dining-car attendants.

     In all mediaeval household accounts of lordly feasts and homely meals, 'salt and sauce' are shown almost invariably as a single entry, a proof that sauce was then mostly, if not exclusively, a savoury relish served with fish and meat to make them more palatable, or more acceptable, when they had suffered in transit or storage. Present-day rapid methods of transport and modern means of refrigeration have banished the need to sauce over unpleasant reminders of incipient mortification in highly perishable foodstuffs. Sauces are no longer the spicy pickles which they were originally. Their chief object today is to make our food look and taste better, to make it at the same time more appetizing and more nutritious.

     A good appetite may be called the best of all sauces, and meat gravy as good a sauce as any roast requires. In both instances, however, the name 'Sauce' is used more figuratively than literally. Strictly speaking, sauces are liquid or semi-liquid foods devised to make other foods look, smell, and taste better, and hence be more easily digested and more beneficial. There are a few sauces which are quite simple, such as melted butter, an emollient, or mint sauce, a stimulant. But the majority of sauces are combinations of various elements affording to every cook a chance of displaying his or her own individuality, even when adhering to the main directions laid down in cookery books.

     Most sauces have as a basis some nourishing substance, be it cream, butter, milk, olive oil or an 'essence', that is a concentrated form of meat or fish stock. Then there is the binding, mostly eggs, and, lastly, the flavouring agent or agents, one or more of the many varieties of herbs, spices, condiments and wines. Hence the possibility of countless combinations in sauces that will be different in colour, flavour, taste and consistency; sauces that will make us enjoy, digest and be duly grateful for boiled cod and baked beans.

     Sauces, like all else, are continually changing in details whilst the foundations upon which they are built change but little if at all. There are five foundation sauces or basic sauces, called in French Grandes Sauces or Sauces Meres. Two of them have a record of two hundred years behind them; they are the Bechamelle and the Mayonnaise. They have lasted so long, not only because they are very good, but because they are so adaptable and provide a fine basis for a considerable number of other sauces. The other three, which also date back to the eighteenth century, are the Velouté, the Brune and the Blonde; Carême called these last two Notre Espagnole and Notre Allemande, to emphasize that both were French sauces and that their names were due to their dark and fair complexions.  ((Carême was an early exponent of grande cuisine - the high art of French cooking.  He is considered one of the first celebrity chefs.)) ((More about the book in the June 2015 article.)) 

These five sauces still provide the basis for the making of many modern sauces, but no longer of most of them. Modern sauces may be divided into two classes: the Carême and Escoffier classes. Among the faithful, in the great kitchens of the world, Escoffier is to Carême what the New Testament is to the Old.

     Carême and his disciples produced sauces that were works of art: beautiful and delicious, but complicated. Their chief concern might have been - and probably was - to camouflage as much as possible the meat, game or fish served with some sauce. Many of the sauces which Carême used or introduced were strong and spicy sauces, such as the vert-préPérigueux, matelote, bourguignotte (now called bourguignonne), chevreuil, aigre-doux, piquante, salmis, Robert, raifort, etc.  Of course, there were others, such as the Sauce Suprême and the Sauce Hollandaise, for instance, as great favourites today as they were a hundred years ago. But, on the whole, Carême sauces killed more than they helped the flavour of the meat or game, fish or poultry with which they were served.

     Escoffier took a different view: he was the apostle of simplicity; he wanted his sauces to help and not to hide the flavour of whatever dish they adorned. He introduced, and he had the greatest faith in, fumets and essences, that is, evaporated stock obtained by allowing the water, milk or wine in which meat, fish or vegetables happen to be cooked, to steam away slowly so as to leave behind a fragrant concentrate as a basis for whatever sauce will be served with them.

     Grimod de la Reynière (1758-1837, left), the author of L'Almanach des Gourmands, and a contemporary of Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826, right),  allowed his enthusiasm once upon a time to run away with his discretion, when he exclaimed: 'I would eat my own father with such a sauce'. Escoffier would not have approved of such a sauce: he was not even too keen about the old French proverb: C'est la sauce qui fait manger le poisson. Fish that one cannot eat unless it be buried under a rich sauce had better be buried in the ground, but the fine flavour of a fresh Dover sole cooked in white wine is helped, not blurred, when served with a sauce made from the greatly 'reduced' wine in which the fish was cooked.

     Espagnole and Allemande, the roux brun and blond, and all flour sauces, are less and less popular to-day; fumets and essences, which are of much more easy digestion, more delicate, lighter, and altogether better, are the greatest favourites, and they deserve to be.

     Imagination and wit are gifts which are only too easily dulled by dull food and dull company, whether we be young or old. We cannot always choose the company, but we can, or should be able, to choose our sauces and banish dullness from our meals.

     Far too long has England lain under the jibe that she has a hundred religions, but only one sauce. The reverse would be ever so much better for everybody, and as there are signs of a desire for greater religious unity, let us hope that the desire may also grow for more and better sauces. There is but one serious obstacle in the path of a 'sauce-conscious' England, and it is the sauce inferiority complex of the race.

     The belief is deep-rooted in English minds that the making of a French sauce is far too difficult a task to be attempted with any hope of success. But it is not the case. Most classical sauces, called French sauces, are well within the understanding and achievement of most of us. There are, of course, a number of complicated sauces, in the making of which strange ingredients, rarely available, are indispensable, and such sauces are better left alone or ordered at hotels and restaurants where they happen to be obtainable. But they are exceptions to the rule, and if they are mentioned in the following pages, it is merely as a matter of general interest.

     On the other hand, all the sauces for which detailed recipes have been given can normally be made in most households in England or the United States of America just as well as in France. The making of sauces is not confined to any nationality, and it offers a field which is positively unlimited to the cook who possesses imagination and taste.

      Besides the names of the better-known sauces, there will be found in this Section the names of the Garnitures or garnishings which usually adorn the sauces themselves or dishes served with their own particular sauce; also various dressings and stuffings.


End of published article.  The Sauce chapter continues.



Some cooks prefer potato flour (fecule) to ordinary flour in the preparation of certain delicate sauces. When fecule  is used, sauces need to simmer less, and, as a consequence, do not tend to become over-salted, as is sometimes the case when ordinary flour is used; further, the sauce looks more transparent and 'stands up' better when made with fecule. Once ready, a  fecule-made sauce should not remain too long on the fire or it will become too clear in appearance.

To remove all fat from a sauce, greatly reduce cooking heat and throw a few drops of cold water into the pan. This at once causes the fat to rise to the surface, whence it may be easily removed with a spoon.

When egg yolks are added to a sauce they should be beaten with a tea-spoonful of'ipld water, and then a little of the sauce stirred into the yolks. Remove pan from the fire and stir the mixture into the rest of the sauce by degrees. Stir until well blended. Return to the double-boiler. Stir constantly until thick, but do not allow to boil or the sauce will curdle.

Only the best butter must be used in the preparation of the perfect white sauce and eggs must, of course, be very fresh. If a very rich blonde sauce be needed for special occasions, use thin cream instead of milk.


A well-stocked kitchen cupboard should include sundry spices and condiments without which certain types of sauce cannot be made. Here is a recommended short list:


Ground and stick cinnamon

Ground and whole nutmegs 

White and black pepper, ground             

Ground and whole cloves

Whole peppercorns

Root and ground ginger


SPICES {continued}

Dried and ground saffron                                   Cayenne pepper

Paprika Curry powder                                        Ground and whole mace


Dried sage

Dried thyme                                                       Dried chervil  

Dried bayleaves                                                 Dried mint                                             

Dried basil                                                         Dried marjoram, tarragon and parsley





Potato starch or flour (Jecule)

White wine vinegar

Red wine vinegar

Tarragon vinegar                             Garlic vinegar                        Shallots

French mustard                               Celery salt                             Rock salt





Basil or Sweet Basil





















Good King Henry



Lemon Thyme






Chutney Coriander







Sauce 'Alone'




Sweet Cicely





Nasturtium Persicaria

Caraway Seeds
Cayenne or Red Pepper
Red Pepper

There are forty pages of Definitions and Recipes before ending the section with this graphic. 

Grimod de la Reyniere   here Reynière