Making a Bechamel Sauce
Another of the French “mother” sauces, Bachemel is a pretty simple combination of roux and milk (or cream). The combination forms a thick white sauce that can be taken a number of different ways. Adding some cheese, I use it for my mac-‘n-cheese, I’ll also put it (sometimes) as a layer in my lasagna recipes, and there are a hundred other uses.
Ingredients for a Bachemel Sauce
- Milk or cream
- Ground Nutmeg
There are really just two things you need to watch in this recipe/technique. The first is properly cooking the roux. A roux is mixture of equal parts flour and fat (in this case butter), that are cooked over low heat to form a paste. That paste, can go from a “blonde” roux, meaning very light is color, all they way to a chocolate roux, which is quite dark. For a béchamel sauce, we’re going to keep the roux at the blonde stage, so the sauce stays nice and white. That said, you do need to cook out the roux for about ten minutes over low heat, so that the rawness of the flour is cooked out.
The other thing you have to watch out for is lumps in the sauce. When the milk is added, the roux may clump together and form lumps – which don’t taste good. To make sure you don’t get lumps you can either use a whisk to really stir and break everything up, or add the milk slowly (which I do) as you stir which keeps everything smooth, but takes a bit more time.
- Put a stock pan on low to medium heat
- Add equal parts butter and flour – I find that for each tablespoon of flour I can thicken about a cup of milk. However, I’ll sometimes make more roux than I need, and set some aside before adding the milk. That way, if the sauce is too thin, I can just add back in some of the roux
- Let the butter and flour mix together, and cook, stirring frequently (I use a wooden spoon) over low heat; you should see light bubbling occasionally, if it seems to be boiling/frying, or starts to turn a darker brown, turn the heat down immediately or you roux may burn;
- Cook the roux for about 10 minutes
- I like to add in the milk slowly (about a quarter cup at a time) and stir with a wooden spoon. The roux will immediately become very thick and clumply – which is normal. As you continue to add more milk and stir, the sauce will become thinner, and not have any lumps.
- Once you have all the milk added, I switch to a whisk continue to stir (make sure you get into the edges of the pan to mix all the roux in)
- The sauce won’t reach its full thickness until it reaches a boil
- Grate in about a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg (about ten – fifteen swipes back and forth on a grater), and you’re good to go.
Your béchamel is now good to go, you and add in other ingredients to flavor the sauce, or use on its own, it’s also great baked as a casserole topping like in moussaka or pastisio.
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