(French basic white sauce)
Béchamel is what the French refer to as a "mother sauce." It is a basic, fairly neutral sauce that is ideal for highlighting the flavor of delicate dishes. Also known as white sauce, béchamel goes well with vegetables and chicken and fish dishes.
Béchamel sauce is not as common as it once was, given the preference these days for lighter fare, but it is still ideal for certain dishes. And some of the old recipes deserve to be rediscovered.
Makes about 2 cups
- Butter -- 2 tablespoons
- Flour -- 3 tablespoons
- Milk -- 2 cups
- Salt -- 1/4 teaspoon
- White pepper -- pinch
- Onion (optional), peeled -- 1/4
- Whole clove (optional) -- 1
- Bay leaf (optional) -- 1
- Nutmeg (optional) -- pinch
- Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium flame. Whisk in the flour and cook the flour-butter mixture (roux) for 1 or 2 minutes, or until it turns a light blond color. Do not brown.
- Whisk in the cold milk all at once. Continue whisking as the milk comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, stir in the salt, pepper and optional seasonings, and simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes. Strain through a sieve.
- Add any additional ingredients (see below) and serve hot.
- Sauce Aurore (Tomato cream sauce): whisk 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste into 2 cups of béchamel. Serve with eggs, fish, chicken or vegetables.
- Sauce Crème (Cream sauce): Stir 1/2 cup of heavy cream and a squeeze of lemon juice into 2 cups of béchamel. Use over vegetables, fish, chicken or eggs.
- Sauce Dijonnaise (Mustard sauce):Add 2-4 tablespoons of Dijon or other mustard to 2 cups of béchamel. Good with fish or ham.
- Sauce Mornay (Cheese sauce): Stir 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated or crumbled cheese into 2 cups of hot béchamel until it is completely melted. Do not boil or the sauce may become stringy. Good cheeses to try are Parmesan, Swiss, cheddar, or blue cheese. Use a good quality cheese or your sauce may be bland. Use for vegetable gratins, macaroni and cheese, eggs and hors d'oeuvres.
- Sauce Soubise (Creamy onion sauce): Slowly sauté about 1 pound of sliced white onions in some butter until they wilt completely. Do not allow them to brown. Add 2 cups of béchamel, cover and simmer slowly about 20-30 minutes. Puree, strain through a sieve and serve. Goes well with fish and poultry. An essential component of veal Orloff.
- À la King: An American invention, it's great for leftovers. Just add about 2 cups of chicken, ham, dried chipped beef, peas, mushrooms, etc., to every cup of béchamel. Simmer together and serve over toast or puff pastry shells.
- Béchamel is ideal for creating vegetable gratins. Simply blanch or slowly sauté some vegetables until they are partially cooked. Spread them in a shallow baking dish. Spread a layer of béchamel over the top and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Place in a 375°F oven and cook until browned on the top.
- Add some chopped ham, chopped parsley, some chopped carrots as optional seasonings if you like.
- A little squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of white wine added at the end can brighten this sauce considerably.
- The Germans call béchamel helle Sosse. Italians refer to it as salsa balsamella. It is particularly common the northern part of that country, and can be used in place of tomato sauce in vegetable lasagna. The Greek name for it is saltsa aspri and it is a main component of moussaka.