Bechamel 101

Bechamel, also known as white sauce, is one of the five French mother sauces and a necessary element in French cooking. The basic ingredients in Bechamel can be found in nearly every kitchen, making the sauce easy to create any time. Though this sauce was first developed by Antonin Careme, many would consider Auguste Escoffier as the modern authority on making Bechamel. Escoffier took the principles of traditional haute cuisine and updated them to create modern French cuisine. He is the codifier of the five French mother sauces. This sauce is utilized in many European cooking classes that still follow Escoffier’s techniques.

This sauce is made from equal parts butter and flour by weight that combine to make a white roux. Then milk and salt are added, along with other spices depending on the recipe. Here is a basic Bechamel recipe:

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups milk (can be adjusted for thickness)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • pepper or nutmeg to preference

Heat the milk in a saucepan. While it is warming, melt the butter in another pan. Add the flour and stir to create a white roux. Slowly add the heated milk in increments to the roux, whisking all the while. When the desired thickness and smoothness is achieved, bring the mix to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir frequently for 3 to 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cheese is often added to Bechamel as well.

Sauces derived from Bechamel
There are many daughter sauces derived from Bechamel. Here is a list of several of the more common sauces that use Bechamel as a base:

  • Mournay sauce: This is a Bechamel with cheese added, such as parmesan or gruyere.
  • Mustard sauce: Bechamel prepared with mustard seeds. This sauce is good with fish, poultry or pork.
  • Soubise sauce: This sauce is Bechamel with the addition of thinly diced onions or onion puree.
  • Nantua sauce: Essentially Bechamel with the addition of crayfish.

Dishes that use Bechamel
Bechamel can be used as the base of a souffle. With the addition of cheese, this sauce also works great with macaroni. Bechamel is a key ingredient in numerous dishes including:

  • Lasagna
  • Croque Monsieur: Essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Bechamel is traditionally spooned over the top of the bread.
  • Moussaka: A Greek dish with an eggplant or potato base.
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Fish pie
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