Recipe: Vicki Ravlich-Horan | Photography: Ashlee DeCaires
Béchamel sauce is one of the foundation sauces in French cookery. This basic white sauce is one of the most versatile you will learn. The basis of a great lasagne or soufflé, chowder, Mornay, chicken pie or pasta bake, it’s also the perfect way to turn leftovers into something wonderful. No child should leave the nest without mastering it!
Learn the basics and you will be able to throw away the recipe and even make some short cuts, as long as you remember the ratio of roughly equal parts butter and flour to make a roux.
½ cup flour
1½–2 cups milk
½ an onion, bay leaf, peppercorns or 2–3 whole cloves
In a small pot, gently bring the milk to the boil with the halved onion, 1 bay leaf and peppercorns or whole cloves. Once the milk comes to boiling point, take off the heat and allow the milk to infuse for 5–10 minutes before straining.
In a separate pot, melt the butter then stir in the flour until it forms a paste—this is called a roux. Cook out the flour, stirring continuously, for at least a minute.
Over a low heat, and whilst continuing to stir, pour in approx. a third of the milk. Once incorporated, slowly stir in remaining milk. By adding the milk slowly you will avoid lumps forming and create a silkier sauce.
Continue to stir until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
*If in a hurry you can miss this step. Note: adding cold milk to your roux increases the risk of lumps forming, so ensure you do this slowly.
Mix it up – add some whole grain mustard to the milk for a mustard sauce, perfect served with corned beef, pork or leeks, or smeared on bread with some ham and cheese for an amazing toasted sandwich.
I’m sure there are more than a few out there who grew up only eating cauliflower if it was slathered in cheese sauce. A Mornay (cheese) sauce is simply a béchamel with cheese.
Keep it basic with some grated cheddar or elevate it with Gruyere, Parmesan or your favourite cheese.
Serve over steamed vegetables, from asparagus, broccoli or, of course, cauliflower. For some added pizazz, finish them off by heating under the grill for a few minutes.
Replace the milk with good quality stock (I love using Restore Bone Broths) and you have a lighter sauce perfect for pies, chowder …
Flavour it by adding peppercorns for a sauce over steak or pork chops. Or enrich it with a dollop of mascarpone or crème fraiche at the end.