Visualising sauces in French cuisine

Classic French cuisine, as defined by e.g. Escoffier, has a set of base sauces such as velouté from which other sauces like normande can be derived. This article is an attempt at visualising the sauces and the relationship between them. The motivation behind it is someone I know who is studying catering, and as part of this is learning the classic sauces.

I came across a Wikipedia article on the sauces, felt it contained excellent information but not in the form that I could properly appreciate, so I created this at least partly for my own benefit. (This is similar to what happened with the historic stages in someone’s life, and wealth inequality data.)

The data

I don’t have access to any of the sources directly, so I’m trusting what Wikipedia says. If you know that something in this article needs fixing, please let me know. As seems completely normal, the data is messy. There are at least three classifications of sauces:

  1. 1833 Marie Antoine Carême L’art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle
  2. 1867 Jules Gouffé Le livre de cuisine comprenant la grande cuisine et la cuisine de ménage
  3. 1903 Auguste Escoffier Le guide culinaire

Escoffier’s booked went through more than one edition and was abridged and translated into English in 1907.

The three classifications share an approach of dividing sauces into two groups. The first group are called the mother sauces or leading sauces (mères sauces or grandes sauces in French). The second group of sauces are derived from the first group – these are called the daughter sauces or small sauces (petites sauces in French). Some of the daughter sauces are actually granddaughter etc. sauces, because they are derived from other daughter sauces, but this distinction within daughter sauces doesn’t appear to be made. You can see the mother sauces in the film 100 Foot Journey, where they are used by a chef to prove his ability.

Not only do the three classifications differ from each other, Escoffier appears to change his mind. Mayonnaise is or isn’t a mother sauce, depending on which edition you look in. I am including it as a mother sauce, but many books and things you find online will disagree. Regardless, unless you’re Belgian please don’t put it on your chips (the proper things for chips are salt and vinegar, and/or tomato ketchup) or make it in a chemistry lab and then eat it (eating stuff in a lab is generally a bad idea).

First I will compare the three classifications, and then go into the detail of Escoffier’s classification. I won’t give the recipes or ingredients for any sauce or how they are often used to make a dish – there are loads of sources for this information online or in cookbooks, and adding it to this analysis will make it too complicated.

Comparing Carême, Gouffé and Escoffier

I have based this on Carême’s classification as his was first. He has four mother sauces (in blue) and five daughter sauces (in yellow). Gouffé has twelve mother sauces. These are mostly sub-divisions of Carême’s mother sauces plus one of his daughter sauces, and then marinade is added. Compared to Carême, Escoffier demotes allemande from mother to daughter, promotes tomato and hollandaise and then does or doesn’t promote mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is in green with an asterisk because of its uncertain status.

A table showing the three classifications of sauces. Best read via the original Wikipedia article

A breakdown based on Escoffier

It’s unclear from the Wikipedia article whether all the daughter sauces it lists, and the relationships between them, are as specified by Escoffier or added or changed by other people. I have just used the information as it is – as I said earlier, if you know where any of this is wrong please let me know.

This is a screenshot of a visualisation I made using D3, based on a visualisation of lawsuits between big technology companies. You can also see the proper visualisation, which includes tooltips that give a sauce’s name and any parent and children it has. (Some of the labels in the screenshot are a bit hard to read.)

The mother sauces are those that connect directly to the grey blob in the middle, and the daughter sauces connect to their parent. Blobs are coloured by the relevant mother sauce.

A diagram showing the mother and daughter sauces and the relationships between them.

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