electronic Gourmet Guide


The Five Grande Sauces:
Sauce Espagnole, Demi-Glace
and Derivative Sauces

by Prof. Steve Holzinger

Recipes below

Experience, which plays such an important part in culinary work, is nowhere so necessary as in the preparation of sauce for not only must the latter flatter the palate, but they must also vary in savor, consistency and viscosity, in accordance with the dishes they accompany.

Sometimes I call this column Fonds de Cuisine...the basic elements of cuisine, and owes whatever is good in it to what I have learned from Escoffier's teachings and what I have learned from my students in thirty years of teaching. Escoffier himself says that no theory or recipe can take the place of practical experience in gaining a full understanding of cooking. 2 However, if the cook is to get the most out of experience, a technological3 approach will help to sort experiences into the relevant areas of experience so that cases are general instead of individual. It is a systems approach to cooking.

There are five Grande or mother sauces. They are the major sauces that all the others are made from. The brown Grande Sauce Espanol is the subject of this column. Having learned in theory what a Grande sauce is and how derivative and compound sauces are made from Grande sauces, each sauce when made will fit into place in the general scheme of things, instead of each sauce being a completely separate case.

In a previous article, eGGsalad #12: Gratins, we discussed roux and its applications and discussed the simplest of the five Grande Sauces, Sauce Bechamel. A simple word diagram was used to illustrate the sauce: butter + flour = roux + milk = Sauce Bechamel. (Seasonings are implied) In that article, we made the derivative Sauce Mornay, which is: Sauce Bechamel + Cheese = Sauce Mornay. The finished Sauce Bechamel is called Sauce Creme, and is made by adding cream and reducing.

So we see that a derivative sauce is a Grande Sauce with something added to it. In English, it is a Cheese Sauce. If we added mushrooms, it would be a Mushroom Sauce. Very easy to understand, and it is the same for all the Grande Sauces. To make a derivative sauce we add something to them to create a new flavor and (sometimes) look, that combines the flavor of the sauce with the flavor of the garnish.


The simplest case is when we add something to the sauce to complement its flavor, like mushrooms sauté to make a Mushroom sauce. The mushrooms may also have a wine or sherry or brandy added the end of the sauté, which while invisible, contributes to the flavor. It is also possible to add a wine, brandy or liquor and nothing else to change the flavor.

Reductions are a good way to change the flavor of a sauce. Most commonly, shallots are chopped fine, cooked in butter with something like, let's say mushroom or tomatoes in dice, wine is added and these ingredients are cooked together to marry the flavors, and the liquid is evaporated to concentrate the flavors. The reduction is added to the sauce and then just before serving, some chopped green herb may be added for color. If you made the reduction with butter, shallots, white wine, and finished with parsley, it would be Sauce Bercy, even though it were made on a base made for fish or poultry.

Do not confuse adding a reduction to a sauce, which changes the flavor, with the reduction of a sauce, which by boiling away some of the water in a sauce, concentrates its flavor. Adding a reduction to a sauce, adds a counterpoint to the flavor, whereas reduction (removal of liquid) "plays" the same flavor, only "louder". This technique of reduction to intensify flavor will be very important in making the brown sauces. In the case of the Grande Sauce Espanole, Sauce Demi-Glace, the finished brown sauce is made by reduction.

In eGGsalad #3, brown roux and brown stock were discussed at length, but a review is in order.

Roux is equal quantities of fat and flour cooked together. According to how much cooking you give the flour, the roux is white, for only a few minutes (Roux Blanc), pale roux (Roux Blonde) just until the color begins to change, or in the case of brown roux (Roux Brun) until the starch is toasted "a fine light brown color, and when it exudes an odor resembling that of hazel-nut"4 which takes an hour or longer in the oven. Escoffier speaks of using pure starch to hasten this process, and to make a "clearer, more brilliant and better than that of the old processes."5 Could he have been using cornstarch? I use cake flour for this reason, and find it does make a glossier finish. I also use the fat from the top of the brown stock to make the roux. After all it is cheaper than butter, and has the right color and flavor and has no off flavors as I use only the freshest bones. I mix the flour and melted fat in a roast pan, and set it in the slowest oven, stirring it every half hour. Usually my nose tells me when it is ready, by the lovely toasty hazelnut aroma.


This toasting, or dextrinizing, turns the starch into a simple sugar, creating sweetness, but causing the loss of thickening power. A brown roux will only have half the thickening power of a white roux, but I use the same amount of brown roux as white roux per gallon of liquid. This is because if I only used a brown roux, there would be too much fat. Then I finish the brown sauce with cornstarch mixed with wine, after skimming any grease from the top. A sauce that weeps grease is the worst thing that can happen to a chef! Why not then use cornstarch all the way, as Escoffier hinted at? The reason is that sauces thickened with cornstarch are transparent, like chow mein or cherry pie, and we are used to seeing sauces that are glossy-opaque, which comes from flour. Using flour to start, and cornstarch to finish (which thickens twice as well as white roux and four times as much as brown) gives the desired glossy opaque look, and binds any fat that might be loose after skimming. A sauce thickened with brown roux will need some extended cooking to throw a protein scum that develops, and which you then skim off.

Brown stock (Fonds Brun) is made by putting a layer of dark mirepoix with garlic and tomatoes on the bottom of a roast pan, and adding beef and veal bones (half and half). Should you be so lucky as to be able to get them, some chicken feet or split calves feet, or some slices of shin of beef add great strength. Roast this very slowly, deglaze the pan with any wine, beer or water, and cover the bones in a heavy stock pot, bring to the boil, simmer and skim for 24 hours to extract the rich flavors. I have been known to throw a brisket of beef on top of the bones before they go in the oven, then remove the brisket when well browned, and finish cooking it in with the bones for about an hour and a half or so. You can be sure it is never wasted.

I really do think that the brown stocks need more meat flavor in them than bones can provide. Neckbones of beef do very well in this respect, but they must be very fresh. If you read Escoffier,6 he used beef, veal and pork,... meat not bones. A very respected chef taught me a little short cut for estouffade, the brown stock used for making Sauce Espagnole, the mother brown sauce. What you do is to make the brown stock as before, and dust the bones and mirepoix with flour, and as it browns, turn it over, so the fat (rendered from the bones) which is frying the mirepoix, becomes mixed with the flour forming the brown roux. Tomato purée is poured on top of the bones, so it will have its sour taste cooked out by heat.


I also add a smoked ham hock to give a slight hammy hint to the sauce, which was also suggested to me by an old timer. The same chef would add liberal amounts of red wine during the roasting, to "put out the fire." He didn't like the mirepoix to carbonize, as it gave a bitter taste. So, the schematic diagram for Sauce Espagnole is: Brown Roux + Estoufade + Tomato Product (& aromatics and seasonings) = Sauce Espagnole...the Mother of Brown Sauces.

It is even taken a step further, to a finished sauce, that is to say a Grande Sauce intensified in flavor by reduction. It is the same sauce, "having reached the limits of perfection".7 Sauce Espagnole + Estoufade (an equal volume to the Espagnole) + 3 oz Sherry/qt by reduction = Sauce Demi-Glace. That is to say 1 gallon of Espagnole plus one gallon of Estoufade plus 12 oz of Sherry (flamed) is reduced to make one gallon of Sauce Demi-Glace8. It is skimmed frequently during the process to remove any scum or fat, and seasoned to form the base of all brown sauces.

In Jager Haus restaurant, we always had a big pot of hot "brown gravy" at every meal, as it was indispensable. At lunch, a thick veal chop from the top of the leg of veal would be broiled, and tossed in the pot. About two or three hours later, that chop would be my lunch. Veal does wonders for a brown stock, and the feeling is mutual. The loin end chop of pork would often suffer just so fine a fate, with equally good results. Meat is what makes a good brown sauce. One taste of the brown sauce in a good beef stew will convince you of that beyond any argument. My best brown sauces were made with surplus braised or pot roasted brisket of beef gravy.

In the recipes that follow, we first make a Sauce Espagnole, and then a derivitive sauce, Sauce Diable. Then we follow with some basic recipes that naturally follow the brown sauce pattern, stews and braisings. The last two recipes, are somewhat more difficult to prepare, but rely on the ideas that I have used in the past.

  1. Escoffier, A. The Escoffier Cookbook, page 15 Crown Publishers, New York 1963
  2. ibid page 1
  3. Technology is the attempt to find a single rational approach to doing a job.
  4. Escoffier, page 16
  5. ibid page 17
  6. ibid page 9
  7. ibid page 19
  8. Don't confuse Sauce Demi-Glace, the finished brown sauce with Glace de Viand, which is made by reducing a meat stock to 1/10th of its original volume. Syrupy thick when hot, it is rubbery when cold. Typically, when I taste a sauce and it needs a little more "omph" or strength, I add a little glace de viand. I used to make it and keep it in styrofoam coffee cups, with lids. It kept in the refrigerator for months. I called it 'brown gold' long before that phrase was used for a brand of coffee. Chef Louis Diat tells an interesting story about it in the Gourmet French Cookbook.
Steve's #21 Recipes
Sauce Espagnole
Sauce Diable for Grilled Pork
Beef Sweetbreads in Mushroom Sauce
Chicken Stew Chasseur*
Braised Brisket of Beef
Fillet de Beouf aux Morilles
Autumn Roast Duck
Brown Stock—Estouffade*
Court Bouillon*

*Repeated from a previous article


© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.

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This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007