Bechamel Sauce is the base for many delicious dishes like pot pie and macaroni and cheese. It is simple to prepare and versatile in its use.
One of the first lessons in culinary school, and one of the most important, is all about the five French "mother sauces". Bechamel Sauce is indeed one of the five sauces. Its use in recipes is wide, especially in many comforting dishes we know and love.
What is Bechamel Sauce?
One of the five French "mother sauces", Bechamel is a thickened white sauce that is the starter to a multitude of dishes and sauces. While it does not have much flavor on its own, it is used as a base for many other delicious recipes, like cheddar sauce (macaroni and cheese), sausage gravy, and creamy casseroles. It is made with a white roux and warm milk, which is boiled and thickened.
This sauce is essentially made with three ingredients: butter, flour, and milk.
- Butter - The classic Bechamel is a 3-to-3 ratio of fat to flour. This recipe is for a smaller quantity, so you'll only need 2 tablespoons of each butter and flour.
- All-Purpose Flour - When added to the melted butter, the flour and butter become a roux. Because this is a white sauce, you are required to make a classic French white roux. A white roux requires the least amount of cooking. (The longer a roux cooks, the darker it becomes.)
- Milk - Whole milk is the milk of choice for Bechamel. The milk needs to be warm when it is added to the roux. This can be done on the stovetop over low heat or in the microwave.
- Seasonings - Because this is "base" sauce, seasonings depend on its use. Season it with salt and pepper. A pinch of cayenne or nutmeg is a lovely accompaniment as well.
- Use cold butter for even, accurate melting.
- Do not add the flour too soon. Make sure the butter is completely melted and bubbling, but not browning before you add the flour.
- Make sure your milk is warm before adding it to the hot pan. Cold milk results in a lumpy sauce.
- Be attentive. Bechamel sauce is not difficult to prepare, but you need to be attentive to the process. This means adding ingredients at the right time and temperature, stirring continuously, and heating just until thickened.
- Melt the Butter: Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.
- Make the Roux: Once the butter is melted and bubbling, add the flour. Cook for about two minutes, stirring constantly until a paste develops. *Do not let it brown, we are looking for a white roux.
- Add the Warmed Milk: Slowly pour in the warm milk, continuing to constantly stir, and bring to a boil.
- Cook and Season: Lower the heat, still stirring, and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat, or use it accordingly.
How to Use Bechamel Sauce
While there are a multitude of uses for Bechamel Sauce, here are a few of the best known uses.
- Mornay Sauce (White Cheese Sauce) - Add ½-1 cup of grated gruyère cheese to the sauce at the end of its cooking. Stir until melted. Add a pinch of cayenne, nutmeg, or mustard powder, if desired. Toss the sauce with cooked pasta.
- Chicken Pot Pie - Yes, this sauce is the starter to that delicious interior of a pot pie.
- Vegetable Gratin - Use Bechamel Sauce and cheddar cheese to make a potato or cauliflower gratin.
- Thickener for Soups - Bechamel acts as a thickener for soups like potato leek and cream of broccoli.
- Use as a Sauce for Cooked Vegetables
Cool the béchamel quickly and transfer to an airtight container. Place plastic wrap or a sheet of wax paper directly onto the surface of the thickened sauce to keep the sauce from forming a skin. Refrigerate.
Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, Bechamel will last 4-5 days. It is best, however, when used within a day of making it.
Other Recipes You'll Love
Bechamel Sauce is one of those recipes you will eventually know by heart. This recipe is easy to remember, easy to make, and absolutely multifaceted in its use in the kitchen.
- 2 tbsp butter cold
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups whole milk warmed; *see notes
- salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.
- Once the butter is melted and bubbling, add the flour. Cook for about two minutes, stirring constantly until a paste develops. *Do not let it brown, we are looking for a white roux.
- Slowly pour in the hot milk, continuing to constantly stir, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, still stirring, and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until thickened.
- Season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat, or use it accordingly.
- Before you start making the sauce, warm the milk in a small saucepan over low heat until hot to the touch and slightly bubbly. You can also warm the milk in a microwave-safe dish in the microwave too.
- Finish the sauce with a pinch of cayenne or nutmeg.
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