Bechamel Sauce or white sauce forms the base of many classic sauces. It’s a must-own recipe in a cook’s arsenal and one of the first things you learn to make in any kitchen.
What is Bechamel Sauce?
Bechamel Sauce is also known as a basic white sauce and is one of the 5 mother sauces in classic French cuisine. However, it may also be known as a “besciamella” in Italy, with some Italians arguing about the sauce’s origins. Whatever the answer, this smooth, creamy bechamel sauce is easy to master, leaving cooks with endless recipes to muster up in a hurry.
Ingredients for a Bechamel Sauce
This new repertoire includes a mornay sauce, or to put it simply, a classic cheese sauce. It will also remove the need for those pre-made shop-bought white sauces often sold with lasagne kits and pasta sauce. A homemade bechamel is quick, easy, and much cheaper per serving.
The primary 3 ingredients for a bechamel sauce are butter and flour in equal quantities with warm milk added slowly.
The combination of butter and flour is known as a white roux because we’ll add the milk before the flour begins to brown. We use a Brown roux to make stock-based sauces such as another mother sauce known as sauce espagnole. The flour is cooked for this type of roux until it begins to take on a golden-brown colour.
Full-fat milk makes for a richer, creamier texture, but any milk can be used to make bechamel. However, skimmed milk will also result in a thinner consistency with a lack of flavour. The milk is first brought to a gentle simmer and kept warm, infusing the seasonings. It allows the milk to absorb the flavour and reduces the cooking time, as the warm milk binds more easily with the roux.
The seasonings often used are ½ an onion studded with cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns and a pinch of nutmeg.
Making a Bechamel Sauce
Step One: Add milk in a saucepan with the onion, cloves, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse. Stir continuously, or the milk will catch and begin to brown. Remove the peppercorns, bay leaves and onions.
Step Two: Melt the butter slowly over medium heat, then stir in the flour with a whisk. Whisky quickly until a smooth paste forms.
Step Three: Slowly Add the milk with a ladle. Add one ladle at a time, stirring quickly and continually until all the milk has been incorporated. Continue whisking in the warm milk until it’s smooth and all the lumps have been whisked out. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the sauce is thick.
Step Four: Season with Salt to taste and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Use as your chosen recipe requires.
Bechamel Sauce Variations
Cream Sauce – While you can make a cream sauce without a bechamel sauce, the resulting sauce is lighter with a more sauce-like consistency. Finish the sauce with 100ml of double cream and cook for 2-3 minutes to allow the cream to thicken.
Mornay or Cheese Sauce – Finish your bechamel sauce with grated cheddar and English mustard for a basic cheese sauce.
Soubise – Sauteed white onions, seasoned and pureed, can be stirred into a basic bechamel sauce. This sauce is known as soubise sauce.
How to Make a Bechamel Sauce
- ½ Onion Peeled
- 4 Cloves
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 10 Peppercorns
- 500 ml Whole Milk
- 50 g Butter
- 50 g Plain Flour
- Pinch of Freshly Grated Nutmeg
- Salt to taste
- Add the milk, cloves, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a small pan. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
- In a separate pan, melt the butter slowly. Whisk in the flour and whisk until a smooth paste forms. Cook for 2-3 minutes, but do not allow the flour to brown.
- Remove the onion and spices from the milk and discard.
- Using a ladle, slowly whisk in the warm milk. Whisk in 1 ladle of milk to the roux until well combined and smooth. Cook while whisking for 10 minutes until the sauce reaches the desired thickness.
- Season with salt to taste and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.