If you’ve always made creamy pasta sauce via a Lipton/Knorr packet and are just now starting to cook certain types of food from scratch, you may be scratching your head trying to figure out how to replicate that classic white sauce that is the centerpiece of many French and Italian dishes.
The white sauce that you’re thinking of is also known as a béchamel, and it is what is known by the French as one of the “mother sauces.” Together with its siblings (hollandaise, tomato, espagnole, and velouté), it forms the basis of many other sauces and entrees in French and Cajun cooking.
Moreover, this sauce can be used in various pasta dishes such as macaroni and cheese, and within various vegetable casserole dishes. It is also the nucleus of the cheese soufflé.
Do you have a taste for a classic Alfredo, but you don’t have any cream on hand, or are trying to cut out some of the fat? Substitute a béchamel instead.
This sauce is one of the easiest to make – you basically start out with a roux, which is simply a combination of unsalted butter and flour. You then add milk in a manner similar to what you would do when you are making milk gravy (which is basically just béchamel cooked in chicken fat, bacon fat, or some other type of pork drippings rather than butter), and cook until thickened.
Also, if you substitute stock such as beef, chicken, fish, or shellfish in lieu of the milk, you will have created a velouté, which is another French “mother” sauce as mentioned above.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 1/2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
A few notes:
- Salted butter works in a pinch – be sure to reduce the salt content of the overall recipe to compensate.
- The amount of milk required can be adjusted significantly, depending on the requirements of the overall recipe. For thinner white sauces, 2 1/2 to 3 cups can be used, and for a thicker béchamel you may want to use only 1 ½ cups of milk. One other thing to consider is the amount of milk fat. The higher the fat percentage, the thicker the sauce will be (which is why cream is also often used as basis for this type of white sauce).
1. Measure out your milk and warm it, either in the microwave or a saucepan. While the milk is heating, measure out your butter into a saucepan and melt it over medium heat. Keep a watchful eye on the butter, and do not allow it to start to brown.
2. Stir or whisk the flour into the butter, and cook over medium heat for around 4 to 7 minutes. This forms the roux. Be aware that you are not trying to create a Cajun-style roux that is dark in color and nutty in nature when you make a white sauce. You merely want to flour to be just barely cooked – forming a “golden” or blond type of roux.
3. Slowly add just a little milk – a couple of tablespoons at most. to start. You want the roux to become just a little moist. While stirring, cook for another minute or so, and then slowly add the remainder of the milk while whisking constantly. Be sure to keep a good pace while whisking or clumps may form – you don’t want a lumpy sauce!
If you follow these steps, you should end up with a nice and creamy concoction that will allow you to create a base for many different dishes. Add some cheese and salt to taste for a pasta sauce, or you could even use it as is.
Do you know of any other methods for producing a white sauce? Have any great recipes that include béchamel? Please share in the comments below!
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About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!