Add this easy bechamel sauce to your bag of cooking tricks and elevate everyday dishes into restaurant-quality fare.
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Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 mins or until mixture is grainy. Remove from heat. Gradually add the milk, whisking until smooth.
Place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, for 6-8 mins or until the mixture comes to the boil and thickens. Remove from heat and season with pepper.
Anyone who wants to master kitchen basics will have an excellent bechamel sauce under their apron. It’s a staple and, if you’re familiar with French cuisine, you’ll recognise it as one of the five ‘mother’ sauces (the others are velouté, espagnole, hollandaise and tomato). You don’t have to be a cordon bleu chef to make bechamel sauce. Often simply called ‘white sauce’, this easy bechamel recipe takes only 10 minutes to make and gives you a huge range of options come dinner time.
Like the other mother sauces (apart from hollandaise), this recipe for bechamel sauce begins with a roux, which is just a fancy term for cooked flour and butter. You want to cook the flour and butter for long enough to stop the flour tasting like paste, but not so long that it starts to brown. This only takes about 2 minutes, but remember to stir it continually with a wooden spoon. If it looks like it’s cooking too quickly, remove the pan from the heat and keep stirring – residual heat should finish the process. You’ll need a whisk for the second step. With the flour and butter off the heat, the milk is added gradually – about 100ml at a time – and whisked thoroughly before each addition. This will ensure you don’t get any lumps in your sauce.
The final step involves thickening your bechamel sauce over a low heat. Once it starts to bubble it should take about another minute to thicken up. Make sure you keep a close eye on it and stir it constantly to ensure it doesn’t burn or stick to the bottom of the saucepan. If it’s too thick, add a splash of extra milk.
Bechamel sauce is often used as a layer in lasagne, but it’s also used as a base for creating other sauces – most commonly cheese sauces. For instance, mornay sauce is simply bechamel with grated gruyere and parmesan added once the sauce has thickened on the stove. Simply stir it through until the cheese is melted. If you’re craving mac and cheese, add whatever grated cheese you prefer (cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, fontina, monterey jack) to classic bechamel, stir the sauce through cooked pasta shells, top with more grated cheese and brown in an oven. Add a dash (or two) of cream to your bechamel and voila! A rich sauce that’s perfect for potato dauphinoise or cauliflower gratin. Soubise sauce takes sauteed and blended onion and adds it to bechamel sauce. It works really well with vegetable, chicken and egg dishes, or as a base for a casserole.
You’ve probably encountered bechamel sauce as a layer in lasagne, but try a twist on a classic with an easy Mexican-style lasagne. Another lasagne variation is Greek-style beef pastitsio, which has bechamel sauce flavoured with parmesan that’s then stirred through the pasta and layered over the top. Stirring chopped parsley through bechamel sauce creates a tasty and impressive topping for corned beef hash patties.