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What is Espagnole Sauce?

By Greer Hed
Updated May 16, 2024
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Espagnole sauce is a brown sauce that is a mother sauce, one of the basic sauces found in French cuisine. Its name comes from the French word for "Spanish," despite the fact that the sauce has no immediate ties to Spanish cooking or culture. The recipe for this brown sauce was originally standardized by the French chef, restaurateur, and food writer Auguste Escoffier in the late 19th century, and has not changed much since that time. Espagnole sauce typically includes a brown stock, such as beef or veal stock, and butter and flour cooked together until they turn a medium brown color to make a thickening agent known as a brown or dark roux. There are many variations on the recipe, and the sauce may be used as a base for many other well-known French sauces, such as Sauce Chausseur, a variation that includes mushrooms, shallots, and white wine.

The mother sauces of French cuisine are the most basic sauces, on which other, secondary sauce recipes may be based. There were originally four mother sauces named by the French chef Antonin Careme in the 19th century. These four sauces were Bechamel, or white sauce, made with milk and a white roux; espagnole, or brown sauce, made with brown stock and brown roux; veloute, made with light stock and blonde roux; and allemande, a variation on veloute made with eggs and cream. Later on, in the 20th century, Auguste Escoffier expanded the list of mother sauces to include tomato sauce, butter sauce, hollandaise, and mayonnaise.

Espagnole sauce has no clear Spanish origin, even though it is named after the French word for "Spanish." There are a few theories that attempt to explain the name. The first states that Louis XIII's wife, Anne, had Spanish cooks on her staff that helped cook the couple's wedding feast and updated the French brown sauce by adding a typically Spanish ingredient, tomatoes. Another theory suggests that during the reign of Louis XV, the French people associated smoked meats, such as bacon, ham, and smoked sausage, with Spanish cuisine, and that espagnole sauce was a variation on brown sauce with ham, bacon, or both added to it. A final theory puts forth the idea that it is the color of the sauce that led to its name, as the French associated the golden-colored sauce allemande with their stereotypical image of a German, and the dark-colored sauce espagnole with their stereotypical image of a Spaniard.

Most recipes for espagnole sauce include butter and flour that make up the roux used to thicken the sauce. The stock used is a brown stock, usually veal stock. Bacon or ham are usually also found in the recipe, as well as tomatoes or tomato puree. Most recipes also include some variety of aromatic vegetables, such as carrots and onions, and seasonings, such as bay leaves and cloves. Other ingredients may also be added, such as red wine, garlic, celery, or horseradish.

Espagnole sauce is usually made by cooking the vegetables and seasonings in butter. The flour is then added to the pot, and stirred into the butter to form a roux that is cooked until it turns a medium brown color. Next, the stock is added, along with pepper and salt, and the mixture is simmered for about an hour before the seasonings may be strained out and the sauce is ready to serve.

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Discussion Comments
By Pippinwhite — On Jul 11, 2014

@Rotergirl -- When I first saw a recipe for espagnole sauce, I thought, "Who keeps veal stock?" I can count on one hand the number of times I've had any kind of veal in my kitchen! I would have to make do with beef stock, I suppose. And I'd rather buy it, because I don't have room in my freezer for frozen stock, and no time to make beef stock the recommended way.

My problem with some of these French recipes is not their complexity. For 95 percent of them, if you break down the method into steps, they're not that difficult. My problem is the expense one goes to in order to make them! I can't afford to find a butcher who will keep the bones necessary for good beef stock, then sell them to me.

By Rotergirl — On Jul 10, 2014

I'd be careful about putting cloves in a sauce like this, no matter how traditional they are. Cloves can overpower a dish in a hurry. Maybe put one whole clove in the mixture, just for a whisper of flavor.

The whole "mother sauce" thing is a little odd, anyway, since it's difficult to get any two cooks to agree on exactly what the mother sauces are, once you get away from the basic four. There is some argument. I'd probably go with the ones Julia Child lists in "The Art of French Cooking," which ever those are. She did a heck of a lot of research for that cookbook, so I'd consider her the modern authority.

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