Sauce Béchamel

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Add any additional ingredients (see below) and serve hot.

Variations

  • 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.
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