Bechamel sauce or white sauce as it is also known due to its colour, is one of the five "mother" sauces of modern French cuisine. This means that a number of other sauces, for example cheese or mushroom sauce, can be derived from preparing this sauce first.
Bechamel sauce is basically a sauce made from equal quantities of butter and flour to which milk is added and cooked until it thickens. The sauce is then seasoned with salt, white pepper and sometimes nutmeg.
The thickness of the sauce will depend on how much flour and butter is used. The greater quantities used, the thicker the sauce will be.
For a thin and runny sauce, use one tablespoon of both butter and flour, whilst for a thicker sauce to use in croquettes, for example, use three tablespoons of both.
Bechamel sauce is used in many well-known recipes such as macaroni cheese, lasagne and moussaka and it is also the basis for soups, pies and croquettes. It can be served on its own, accompanying fish, cheese, egg and gratin dishes.
When the sauce was first invented in France around 1650 during the reign of Louis XIV it was prepared by cooking veal stock, milk and seasonings over a low heat, straining the sauce through a sieve and then adding cream.
A later version instructed the formation of a white "roux" (butter and flour mixture) to which milk, salt, pepper and an onion studded with cloves
were added and cooked slowly over a low heat for 20 minutes.
Nowadays, many chefs prefer to cook different more modern sauces made with butter or vegetable purées, as the Bechamel sauce is now regarded as old-fashioned and out of date.
However, Bechamel sauce will always be around as it is an integral part of many popular recipes.
There are generally two methods of preparing the sauce. The first method is very quick, and is made by preparing a roux and whisking in milk. The second recipe, on the other hand, is for a more traditional and slow way of making the sauce, using vegetables and simmering the mixture for about 30 minutes.
Once the sauce has been prepared, it may be kept warm by pouring it into a jug and placing it over a simmering pan of water until needed.
Alternatively, the sauce may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Below are three recipes for Bechamel sauce each using slightly different ingredients and method.