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13 March, 2009

White sauce (aka Bechamel)

Posted in : From the original blog, Recipes on by : Lauri Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

White sauce, also known as bechamel (“beshamell”), is one of the most basic sauces in a cook’s repertoire.  Learning this versatile classic will give you a leg up on a variety of cooking concepts.

2 T butter or oil

2 T flour

1 c milk

Salt and pepper to taste


  • Melt butter or heat oil over low heat in a small saucepan or skillet.
    • TIPIf using butter (highly recommended), pour about a teaspoon of olive oil over the cold butter before you turn on the heat.  Stir these together as the butter melts — the oil will help keep the butter from burning.
  • Add flour, and combine thoroughly to make a roux (pronounced “roo”, it’s a standard fat-and-starch base for sauces and Cajun recipes).
  • Add milk all at once. Bring heat to medium, stirring constantly, and reduce milk until the sauce starts to coat the spoon when lifted out of the pot.
  • Add seasonings as desired: salt and white pepper are standards.
    • Mario Batali and many other chefs like to add nutmeg for a broad-spectrum flavor base, but I actually prefer just a hint of good-quality dry mustard, ground fine and whisked in thoroughly, for a slight tang against the creaminess.

Since the dish starts out with a little fat, the milk can have whatever fat content you prefer, even fat free, although it’s not my favorite.  It can also be replaced with evaporated milk, half and half or even cream if you’re going for more decadence. The tofu of sauces, this good basic recipe is a starting point for many sauce recipes, and takes on the flavor of other foods. As is, it’s very simple, but can be a good way to add moisture to casseroles and baked dishes. It’s generally intended as a base for everything from pasta sauce (add Parmesan) to fondue (add Swiss or Gruyere), mock Hollandaise (add lemon juice and an egg yolk), etc. It can be tossed with chicken or shrimp, seasoned with a variety of spices, and thinned and flavored with white wine or chicken stock to suit the needs of the dish. You can even be augment with tofu (silken texture), to add protein and nutritional value. (This may need to be run through the blender for a smooth, creamy finish.)

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