Start to Finish: 12 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Béchamel, called besciamella in Italian, is the basic white sauce used as a base for many other dishes. It's one of the five "mother sauces" that are staples of classic French cooking, but it's a building block in recipes for all kinds of cuisines.
- 2 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
Béchamel can easily be scaled up or down depending on the amount of sauce you need. For every 1 cup of milk, use 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour.
Heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat. It may start to steam and bubble, but take it off the heat if it starts to boil. You want the milk to be hot but not scorched.
While the milk is heating, melt the butter in a second saucepan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and vigorously stir the two together with a wooden spoon. This mixture, which is called a roux, should have the consistency of paste.
Cook the roux, stirring constantly, for about five minutes. It should have a buttery, golden color but should not get darker as it cooks.
If your stove is too hot and the roux starts to turn golden brown, you can throw it away and start again, or you may move ahead to the next step right away. The finished béchamel may have a slightly nutty flavor, however.
After five minutes, pour about 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the roux. Whisk the milk into the roux until it's smooth. Add another 1/4 cup and repeat. Finally, pour in the rest of the milk. Whisk the sauce until it is completely free of lumps.
Cook the béchamel for another two to three minutes, whisking it several times. Remove the pan from the heat. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
Create a more flavorful but less traditional béchamel by sauteing minced garlic and/or onion in the butter before adding the flour.
If you're wondering what you can make with béchamel, the short answer is: It's a long list.
Stir in a mixture of cheddar cheeses and use this as the sauce for a batch of homemade macaroni and cheese, or use béchamel as the sauce for an Alfredo dish. Make a lasagna using alternating layers of red and white sauces. If you have a leftover pasta dish that's a little dry, stir Parmesan into béchamel and pour it over the reheated pasta.
As Cheese Sauce
Any kind of cheese that melts well can be added to a béchamel. Melt in blue cheese and drizzle the sauce over steak or vegetables. Stir tons of spicy pepper Jack cheese into the sauce and dunk vegetables and chips into it.
In her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two, Julia Child suggests mixing béchamel with sauteed eggplant or zucchini, topping the mixture with breadcrumbs and baking the dish to brown the crumbs. You also might try mixing the sauce with sauteed spinach to make a creamy side dish or pouring it over roasted asparagus.
While other ingredients often are added to a finished béchamel, you may use this sauce on its own. Pour it over biscuits and sausage or stir garlic béchamel into mashed potatoes. This sauce can be used as the base of a soufflé and in the Greek dish moussaka.