Delicious homemade sauce improves almost any dish. It takes food from average to great with one tip of the ladle. The best part is, making many classic sauces at home is super-easy.
We’ve created this handy guide to demonstrate the basics of sauce. You’re about to learn how to make any common sauce like gravy and bechamel, along with some lesser-known recipes. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Recommended equipment for making sauce
The list below contains common kitchen tools and equipment for sauce-making. Not all of them are essential, but they’ll make life easier and your sauces tastier.
- 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
Instead of creating the strongest flavor, use the right mix of ingredients to improve the food you’re serving. 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.
2. Appropriate texture
Even a well-seasoned sauce won’t taste right if the texture is off. Grainy gravy is a great example. Ingredients like sugar, fat, starch, or protein can be added to adjust texture.
How to add texture to 1 cup of liquid
You have many weapons in your arsenal to make a perfect sauce. These are some popular options.
Sugar is ideal for adding to fruit-based liquids to provide a syrupy, glossy texture. Don’t go overboard though because your ingredients will quickly become overwhelmed with sweetness.
Slowly whisk 2-3 tablespoons of cubed butter into the simmering sauce. Butter is an easy way to enrich the flavor and add a thick, velvety texture to liquid. Adding too much butter will create a greasy, unpleasant 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 dairy to hot liquids or acidic ingredients as the liquid can separate.
Egg yolks can be skilfully combined with oil to make the perfect natural emulsifier. They are the building blocks for sauces like mayonnaise, aioli, remoulade, and 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 one tablespoon of your preferred flour with one tablespoon of water then add the mixture to your sauce. You’ll need to cook off the sauce for at least a few minutes. This will allow the liquid to thicken and 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 regularly.
What are the Mother Sauces?
The five basic sauces, or Mother Sauces, are the building blocks for a huge range of secondary sauces. These include béchamel, velouté, espagnole, tomato, and hollandaise.
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 rich, creamy mouthfeel to dishes.
What's it made of? Golden roux with white stock added. The most common stock to use for veloute is chicken stock.
Velouté 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 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 other small sauces such as chasseur sauce, mushroom sauce, charcuterie sauce, and sauce bercy.
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 has more punch.
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 like 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 drizzle and splash reductions on the plate for visual appearance. They’re also easy to make in your home kitchen.
To reduce a sauce, heat liquid until boiling (with the 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. 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 a 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. You can steep one or more ingredients in hot water until the water is flavored.
You won’t get the same intensity of flavor that comes from homemade stock, but that’s not always a problem.
Infusions are quick to make and add a depth of flavor. Try tossing 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 a 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 ½ 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 that can lift many dishes to a new level. The natural flavors of vegetables, the umami that comes from meat, seafood, and poultry. It is worth the effort and superior to store-bought products.
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, 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.
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. 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?
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.
It's likely you'll use this technique frequently, so check out the next recipe to learn more.
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
Sauce doesn’t have to be thick to be good. “Jus” is a French term for a thin sauce that is made from meat juices. It’s a flavorsome sauce thanks to the meat flavors which have 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 vegetables 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.
Green sauces are made from chili, herbs, and other greens for aromatic vibrancy. They 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 popular around the world, especially in Britain, Thailand, Japan, India, and China. Although some curries like Vindaloo pack a punch, there are plenty of less intense curries. They often have complex flavors and delicious aromas.
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 before 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 here, 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 body to your sauce at the end of the cooking process. When using a slurry, you’ll add starch without fat to thicken your sauce before serving. A roux is similar, except that it has 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 easy to make and versatile in recipes. It can be used for cocktails, sauces or to finish a dessert.
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, but it’s well worth it. Once you’ve made a slurry or reduction a few times, you’ll be able to make them fast.
If you have a busy lifestyle, you probably won’t have time to make a sauce every time you cook. Save them for those nights when you’re in the mood to create the perfect meal.