When starting this column, I thought about the French mother sauces: béchamel, veloute, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato. Of course, I haven't made them yet because my own personal tastes prefer things like barbecue sauce and pimento cheese. But their omission does kind of leave a large void here in the Sauced world. But the time for béchamel has come.
The origin of this sauce is debatable. Some trace its roots to Tuscany and it was then imported to France; others believing it was a creation inside the court of the Marquis de Béchamel in late 17th century France.
No matter the source, you can't deny that this is an essential base sauce—it's the most used of the mother sauces in my kitchen.
It all starts with a roux (a mixture of flour and butter cooked together), then hot milk is added and whisked until smooth and thickened. A little hit of salt and nutmeg finishes it off, and there you have it. This "white sauce" is done.
On its own, I haven't found much use for this sauce, but it's the foundation of so much. Add cheddar for a great mac and cheese sauce, use it in lasagna, or, my favorite, spread on a grilled ham and cheese with Gruyere, broiled for a truly excellent croque monsieur.
About the author: Joshua Bousel brings you new, tasty condiment each Wednesday and a recipe for weekend grilling every Friday. He also writes about grilling and barbecue on his blog The Meatwave whenever he can be pulled away from his grill.
- 3 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Pinch of nutmeg
Place milk in a medium saucepan and bring to faint simmer over medium heat.
In another medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add in flour and whisk until smooth. Cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly, making sure mixture does not turn a darker brown.
Add heated milk to butter mixture one cup at time, whisking constantly, until smooth. Continue to cook sauce until thickened slightly, about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in salt and nutmeg.