Time to ooh and ahh all over the most decadently rich brown sauce you’ll ever make. Espagnole is a classic sauce that seems daunting to craft but with a few tips and a little guidance, you’ll be able to make this delicious sauce right at home.
Maybe you once looked at a recipe for Espagnole and you skipped over it once you saw it required a roux and mirepoix—and that made it seem dauntingly complex. Maybe you’ve never even thought about making Espagnole and now you’re intrigued. Either way, once you learn the basics it’s as simple as adding a few ingredients to a saucepan and using your muscle to combine everything. From there, all it takes is a bit of patience as your stovetop works to produce that rich flavor, and the simmering sauce fills your home with a fabulous aroma.
Espagnole sauce (also called brown sauce) is one of five mother sauces in classical cuisine. A mother sauce is an essential base sauce, used as a starting point for other intensely flavored sauces. The sauce, of French origin, is named after the French word for “Spanish” although it has no historical connection to Spain.
The origin of the sauce name is unclear but it seems to follow a similar naming convention to Allemande sauce (“German” sauce, a variation of velouté sauce). The brown and blonde sauces appear to be named after the complexions of the people in the region the sauce is named after—a naming methodology that would be more than a bit frowned upon today.
To make Espagnole sauce, you’ll start with a roux (combined fat and flour), then add mirepoix before slowly whisking in a brown stock made from beef bones. From there, you’ll add tomato puree and other flavor boosters into the saucepan, then simmer until you reach mega flavor.
The rich taste is essential, but the mouthfeel makes or breaks your dining experience. We’ll also explain how to run the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer to remove all the chunky ingredients and reach a lusciously smooth texture.
Traditional Espagnole sauce is made of a handful of ingredients. As with all the mother sauces, the simplicity of the recipe means each ingredient plays an important role in creating a flavorful sauce. Here’s what each element of the recipe contributes to the final product.
- Butter and flour: Butter and flour combined create a paste-like mixture called a roux, thickening the sauce. This recipe further cooks the roux until the color deepens, which is called a brown roux.
- Brown stock: Brown stock is a stock made from beef bones and serves as the flavorful base we build the rest of the sauce upon.
- Mirepoix: Mirepoix is a fancy term used to describe chopped-up onion, carrots, and celery. The three vegetables deliver an incredible depth of flavor and fragrance when heated and are known as aromatics.
- Tomato puree: A couple of tablespoons of tomato puree is all you’ll need to add acidity to your Espagnole sauce and deliver the perfect color.
- Garlic and bay leaf: These two ingredients (similar to the mirepoix) are added in at first, then taken out after simmering and reducing the sauce. While the sauce simmers, it will break down some of the more robust flavors of bay leaf and garlic, enhancing the sauce and leaving behind a much gentler taste once discarded.
Making any sauce that requires a roux, lots of careful mixing, and the removal of chunky ingredients work best with three essential tools; a heavy-bottomed saucepan, a reliable whisk, and a fine-mesh strainer.
Here’s a little more about each:
- Heavy Bottomed Sauce Pan: There are many saucepans on the market, but when you are making a sauce that requires you to use both hands, a heavy pan that won’t swirl around while you stir is essential. When making Espagnole, you’ll need to slowly whisk in stock while continuously stirring to avoid lumps in your roux. Le Creuset is a trusted brand that we love and always turn to for soups, stews, braises, and, yes, almost every mother sauce.
- Wire Whisk: If you are still using that timeworn whisk from the ’80s and it’s looking a little risky, OXO offers a super comfortable small-medium-sized whisk that’ll do just about anything in the kitchen. This tiny kitchen workhorse is small enough to help scrape in those corners when making a roux but sturdy enough to work through batters later on.
- Fine Mesh Strainer: A fine mesh strainer will help remove the mirepoix, bay leaf and garlic, and any other lumps to finalize your sauce and deliver a velvety smooth mouthfeel. The Cuisinart three-pack is great as you’ll find yourself using these to rinse small amounts of veggies, grains or squeezing lemons to discard seeds.
If you already have these tools, then you are ready to make your sauce! Here’s how we do it.
If you’ve tried making other sauces like velouté, then this one is a sinch. It’s the same concept, with a few additional ingredients and a little extra cooking time. The results, however, are worth the wait.
Here’s how to make standard Espagnole sauce:
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 2 tablespoons of flour
- 2-1/2 cups of brown stock
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped carrots
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 2 tablespoons of tomato purée
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 garlic cloves (smashed chopped)
- Melt butter in a saucepan, then add the chopped mirepoix.
- Cook on medium heat for three-five minutes or until the chopped aromatics begin to soften.
- Add flour to the saucepan and use a whisk to stir until it reaches a nice paste-like roux.
- Turn the heat to low and stir until the roux deepens in color, which could take around 10-20 minutes to develop what’s called a brown roux. Do not let the roux burn.
- After the roux has developed, start adding brown stock while continuously stirring with the whisk. Add the tomato sauce, bay leaf, and garlic cloves.
- Continue to cook at a low simmer for 30-60 minutes, or until the sauce reduces and thickens more.
- Before serving, pour your sauce over a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl to remove all the ingredients, resulting in a rich and flavorful sauce. The finalized sauce should be free of all impurities and boast an incredible mouthfeel.
Espagnole is great when added to hearty stews and beefy soups, but it’s not commonly served on its own. For exceptional flavor, most choose to further enhance it to a famous French sauce called “demi-glace.”
- 1 cup of Espagnole sauce
- 1 cup of brown stock
- 3/4 cup mirepoix (equal parts onion, carrots, and celery)
- 3-5 whole peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- Add the Espagnole sauce and brown stock to a saucepan, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
- Add the mirepoix, peppercorns, and bay leaf to the saucepan.
- Simmer until the sauce has reduced to about half.
- Carefully pour the demi-glace through the fine mesh strainer to remove all contents and allow the sauce to seep through.
- Enhance it into another secondary sauce or enjoy it as is over a steak or with chicken.
Similar to the original brown sauce, this one should boast a rich and smooth texture.
While Espagnole alone makes a lovely addition to many meals, it’s seldom used on its own. Most choose to reduce it to a demi-glace for a more intensified flavor or spruce it up with additional ingredients.
However, either Espagnole or demi-glace can be used in any of the delicious ways we’ve listed below:
- Serve with steak: Drizzle hot demi-glace over a lovely beef tenderloin or hearty ribeye, or serve it alongside a petite filet mignon. Don’t forget the French fries!
- Make a mushroom sauce: Sautee a few ounces of button mushrooms, then add a cup or so of Espagnole. This rich mushroom sauce will taste amazing over any fancy steak or grilled chicken dinner.
- Add it to stew or soup: Espagnole works wonders when you need to add a bit more depth of flavor and body to any beefy stew or soup. Think vegetable beef barley or beef stew.
These are only three ways to use up the sauce, but your culinary creativity is one of the best parts of cooking, so we encourage you to apply the sauce in other delicious new ways!
Once you’ve given brown sauce a try, you’ll need to move on to make other mother sauces. Both hollandaise and tomato sauce are impressive and delicious once mastered, so grab your apron and get to cooking.