Béchamel, commonly known as White Sauce. First of the 5 Mother sauces of classic French cooking, hence the
perfect primer for basic cooking! The other 4 being:
- #2 Veloute (clear stock added to a light or blonde roux)
- #3 Espagnole - (highly concentrated and spiced veal stock with a tomatoe heart)
- #4 Hollandaise (The classic Eggs Benny topper - (Egg, lemon and butter emulsion - like cooked mayo!)
- #5 Sauce Tomatoe - (yup, you guessed it, tomatoe sauce. Though the French version includes salt belly of pork. Did you know tomatoe sauce technically isn't a Italian invention).
But I digress, lets return to Sauce #1. One of the most basics of cooking is learning how to create a basic white sauce or Béchamel; from this many other sauces take root whether making thickened gravy for a roast, Cheese sauce as comfort food over steamed broccoli or thickened as a filling in croquettes.
The basic premise is to take your solid (at room temperature) fat, melt it with heat. Add an equal portion of flour and whisk together. The liquid fat separates every flour particle into a simple suspension which when milk is added in the right quantity, allows thickening to occur without lumps while stirring over heat. At this point you have created your white sauce. Why “white” sauce as the name? Well, because the basic sauce is white in colour, not blue, red,yellow or any other colour under the rainbow; imparted by the use of flour and milk.
Now one could argue that one could use corn, potatoe or tapioca starch to name just a few, but then it just wouldn’t be classic white sauce. Sorry gluten intolerants. The same could be said for using anything but butter, with margarine as a close second for your source of fat. Coconut oil in theory could be used, but now it’s really not that flexible as a sauce base due to the coconut flavor. That said, let’s get started making “Classic White Sauce”
Make sure to go to the last step for ideas on what to do with Béchamel when your done, not only is it a sauce but depending on how much it is thickened it can find itself as a layer in lasagna, moussaka or even deep fried as an incredible diverse creamy crispy comfort food...
Step 1: Ingredients
· Butter or the poor substitute - Solid state fat (Hydrogenated/partly hydrogenated) margarine
· White flour
· Milk – 1% to 3.25%
Note - Rarely is a heavier milk fat content used, and if it is, it really isn’t a Béchamel sauce anymore.
Roux ratios – based on 1 ¼ cups of milk
· Thin sauce – pours easy, very light.
- 1 tbls Flour
- 1 tbls Butter
· Medium thick sauce – think of your classic cheese sauce, coats things nicely “comfort food”.
- 2 tbls Flour
- 2 tbls Butter
· Quite Thick sauce – often seasoned and piped in as a stuffing or for the base of a soufflé.
- 3 tbls Flour
- 3 tbls Butter
Step 2: Melt
In a one liter sauce pan melt over medium heat your butter until it has just melted. Try not to heat further then this point as you do not want to make Ghee – “clarified butter”. Darkening the butter by overcooking will also make your white sauce, not so white…That and over cooking of the roux will hamper its thickening capabilities.
Step 3: Add
Now add your flour, the ratio is 1:1 butter to flour. Whisk in the flour and you will soon be rewarded with a yellow tinged white paste. Depending on the flours humidex factor will determine how thick your flour/butter paste will be. At this point you will have created “roux”, the fancy pants name for flour/butter paste.
Step 4: Whisk
While the pot is still on the heat add your milk. It seems easier if you add about ¼ to ½ of a cup at first and whisk to combine then add the remainder. This reduces sloshing in the pan. Like magic the roux will unravel its current suspension and blend perfectly into the liquid, without lumps. Classically the milk is heated prior to adding to the roux, the theory behind this is the roux being now melty/fat based, will dissolve quicker and easier. You can do this but it means another pot to wash or dare I say a bowl you’ve nuked in the microwave to wash.
Under low to medium heat whisk your solution. Your mixture willbegin to cook,the flour particles will began to absorb liquid and expand, thickening the liquid. Continue to whisk for a minute or two and reduce the heat. It is said to cook for a minimum of 20 minutes to kill the flour pasty taste though I have found 5minutes is just find for smaller batches. If a thinner sauce is preferred add a little more liquid in small batches. It’s easy to thin this sauce, but it takes a lot more effort or rather time to get thick again. If this does happen, cook your sauce over low heat until some of the liquid has evaporated and you will be back to thicker sauce. The key is to have an idea of what you want to start, thin or thick and use the ratio stated at the beginning.
At this point your are done, your classic white sauce is complete. Understand it is a base and will not really have a lot of flavor. Sure it has a touch of butter taste, but no real seasonings have been added aside from the salt occurring in the butter. A slight alteration I do is to add a touch more salt, say ¼ teaspoon and a pinch of pepper. Yes the pepper will taint the white colour but for me flavor is key. One could use white pepper, but I’m sorry the flavor is just not the same as black pepper.
Step 5: Pour
Now pour it on! Of course at this point you can add other ingredients to spice it up. See the next step! They don't call it a Mother sauce for nothing.
Step 6: Mange!
What to do with a béchamel sauce?
Serving it over steamed potatoes seems like the norm, but there is so much more that; just a little tweaking truly opens up this base recipe, which is why it is considered a mother sauce.
· Mornay sauce – typical cheese sauce, grated gruyere, parmesan and/or other strong cheeses are added. Brilliant where you want the primary dish to be elevated, not over powered.
· Mustard sauce, either prepared mustard seed is added though I often just use a high quality Dijon. Great as a dip for croquettes
· Soubise sauce, mince up some onion or even better shallots until ultra-fine and sauté until the melt away in some butter. Amazing over grilled halibut, better even with a touch of lemon zest
· Cheddar sauce – another take on the cheese sauce with Worcestershire sauce and Dijon ups the pungency yet isn’t bitter.
· Croquettes - Make a very thick béchamel and fold into it sharp cheese, meats, veg etc... some seasonings and allow to set up in the fridge overnight. Scoop it out with a large melon baller in the morning, dip in some beaten egg and a roll in some panko. Deep fry until crispy and golden brown. Dip in some mustard sauce or any of the other following mother sauces. BOUCHE! Something I just like to say when presenting something that goes WHAMMY in your mouth. Try out the word, BOUCHE! Say it in a deep, boomy sort of way with a some silly hand gestures. If you look like me, you will come across as a middle aged ginger car salesman, lounge lizard rapper… perhaps skip on the bouche…