Bechamel sauce - various recipes for the popular white sauce.

bechamel sauce
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.
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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more modern sauces made with butter or vegetable purées, as the Bechamel sauce is now regarded as old-fashioned and out of date.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.

Quick Bechamel or white sauce

Ingredients
  • 1½ oz (40 g) of butter
  • 1½ oz (40 g) of plain flour
  • 1 pint (600 ml) of milk
  • ground nutmeg
  • salt and (white) pepper
Method
  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over a fairly low heat.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat, add the flour and stir into the butter to form a thick and smooth paste.
  3. Pour in a quarter of the milk and whisk until a smooth, white liquid has formed with no lumps. Add the remainder of the milk and whisk.
  4. Place the saucepan back onto the stove and turn to a fairly high heat. Bring the liquid to the boil, stirring continuously.
  5. As the sauce starts to boil and thicken, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 - 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Season with the salt and pepper and add the nutmeg.
  7. Serve as required.
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Bechamel Sauce

Ingredients
  • ½ pint (300 ml) of milk
  • ½ oz (15 g) of butter
  • ½ oz (15 g) of plain flour
  • 1 slice of onion
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
Method
  1. Place the milk, onion, peppercorns, and bay leaf into a large saucepan and heat to just before boiling point.
  2. Remove the pan from the stove, cover with a lid and set aside for 20 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
  3. Strain the mixture using a sieve and disregard the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns.
  4. Using the same saucepan melt the butter and then add the flour, all in one go. Stir continuously and cook for 1 minute. You should have formed a smooth and soft "roux" or paste.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a little of the milk at a time until it has all been used up.
  6. Season with the salt and pepper and add the grated nutmeg.
  7. Return the pan to the heat and bring the sauce to the boil, stirring or whisking continuously until it begins to thicken.
  8. Reduce the heat and cook for several minutes, stirring constantly until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.
  9. Serve as needed.

Traditional Béchamel Sauce

Ingredients
  • 4½ cups of milk
  • ½ cup of butter
  • 1/3 cup of plain flour
  • 1 stick of chopped celery
  • 1 peeled and diced carrot
  • 1 small diced onion
  • grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
Method
  1. Heat the milk in the saucepan until near boiling. Remove from the stove and set to one side.
  2. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter and then add the chopped and diced vegetables. Cook until the onion has softened and is translucent in colour.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour. Stir the mixture until a soft paste forms and then return to the heat.
  4. Cook for around 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Set the pan to one side and add the hot milk, a little at a time, whisking continuously.
  6. Return to the stove and bring to the boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a whisk.
  7. Season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  8. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  9. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the sauce through a sieve, so that only a white liquid remains.
  10. Serve as required.
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