Béchamel Sauce (White Sauce)
Béchamel is one of the five mother sauces. It is a classic French white sauce, and was named after its inventor, Louis XIV’s steward Louis de Béchamel, because it was thought to be the king of all sauces. It is often referred to as a cream sauce. Béchamel sauce is made by stirring milk into a butter/flour mixture called a roux. The thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of roux to milk. The proportions for a thin sauce would be 1 tablespoon of butter and flour per 1 cup of milk; a medium sauce would use 2 tablespoons each per 1 cup of milk; and a thick sauce uses 3 tablespoons each per one cup of milk.
My recipe below is of medium thickness, but uses only 1 tablespoon of flour per cup of milk. This recipe gets its additional thickness from using equal amounts of milk and half and half.
My French cooking teacher taught us that the following “fine points” were the trick to making wonderful béchamel sauce. Start with well sifted flour. Make sure that the liquid you add to the flour/butter mixture is hot. Cook over low heat—this allows the flour in the sauce to “bloom”, producing a super creamy, smooth sauce. Most béchamel sauce recipes use only milk and not any half and half. I use equal parts of each for a richer style béchamel sauce. You may want to try different combinations when making your own (see combinations in recipe method).
2 cups whole milk
2 cups half and half
4 Tbs butter
4 Tbs all purpose flour – sifted 2 times
Kosher or sea salt, to taste (approx. 1/2 tsp)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste (approx. 1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly ground preferred)
- Heat milk and half and half over medium heat until hot. Once hot, reduce heat to very low to maintain temperature.
- The mixture does not need to boil. If it boils or forms a skin on top, be sure to pour hot milk through a strainer first before using.
- Heat a heavy sauce pan over low heat.
- Add the butter when the pan is hot. Then whisk in the flour, and continue whisking or stirring until butter and flour foam together for a bit. Make sure butter does not brown and only stays a buttery yellow color. Remove pan from heat once butter/flour mixture (the roux) stops boiling.
- Slowly whisk in a little of the hot milk mixture (about 1/2 cup). Keep whisking until smooth. Return sauce pan to low heat and slowly whisk in a little more milk. Continue to add remaining hot milk mixture until all of it has been incorporated.
- Keep over low heat and continue to stir.
- Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Continue cooking and stirring over low heat until sauce becomes thick and smooth and comes to a light boil.
- Remove from heat, set aside and use as desired. Constant stirring and incorporating of the hot liquid reduces lumps. If lumps occur, strain Béchamel sauce through a fine strainer.
There are many variations and extensions for a Béchamel sauce. I have listed some below, but the options are endless.
- Sauce Aurore: Stir in 2 Tbs concentrated tomato paste at the end.
- Sauce Poulette: Immediately after removing from the heat, stir a bit of the Béchamel sauce (approx. 1/2 c) slowly into two beaten egg yolks. This tempers the egg yolks first before adding the rest of the hot sauce. This might be used as the basis for making a soufflé.
- Sauce Moutarde: Proceed as for the Sauce Poulette. Then stir in 2 tsp French-style mustard, chopped parsley, and a little lemon juice.
- Mornay Sauce (Cheese Sauce): Add 1/2 c grated gruyere cheese to 1 c hot Béchamel sauce; stir over low heat until cheese is melted. Season with a little mustard or Worcestershire sauce to taste, if desired. You can add some grated parmesan cheese to this as well.
- Cheddar Cheese Sauce Recipe: The Cheddar Cheese Sauce is a classic cheese sauce for vegetables made by enriching a standard Béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. The Cheddar Cheese Sauce is an ideal accompaniment for vegetables, pasta or fish.
Velouté Sauce: Substitute chicken, beef, fish, or vegetable broth for the milk.
- Herb Sauce: Add 1 Tsp freshly chopped herbs or 1/2 tsp dried herbs to 1 c hot Béchamel sauce. Cook for a minute or two longer to get more flavor from the herbs.
- Cream Sauce: Add 2 or 3 Tbs heavy cream to the finished Béchamel sauce. Â For an onion flavor, add onion slices to the milk when heating; remove onion slices before adding milk to flour/butter mixture. The same can be done with garlic (my Béchamel variation above is more of a cream sauce – since it uses half and half).
- Mustard Sauce: Combine 1 Tsp dry mustard to flour used in Béchamel sauce. You may want to add a bit more butter to compensate. This sauce is especially good with fish and chicken.
- Curry Sauce: Stir in 1 tsp curry powder with the flour. You may want to add a bit more butter to compensate.
- Dill Sauce: Stir in 1 tsp chopped fresh, or 1/2 tsp dried dill weed.