Béchamel sauce, also known as white sauce, is one of the mother sauces of French cuisine, but don't let the name (pronounced "bay-shah-mel") intimidate you. The basic version of this sauce consists of three ingredients you might already have in your kitchen:
FoodRepublic.com's recipe calls for butter, flour and whole milk. Slowly melt a half cup of butter over the stove on medium heat in a heavy saucepan without letting it bubble. Other recipes suggest melting the butter over a low heat and maintaining that heat until later. While you are waiting for the butter to melt, warm 4 cups of milk on the stove or in the microwave.
Once the butter is ready, measure a half cup of flour and mix that in. Stir with a wooden spoon or whisk until smooth. Make sure to get rid of any clumps; keep the whisk nearby. Once you complete this step, you have actually make a roux, a thickening base that is used in other sauces. A roux is just the combination of flour and butter.
Now, pour a little of the milk, stirring with a whisk as you go. Once that mixes in with the roux, add the rest and whisk vigorously so the sauce blends together. If you have been cooking on low, raise the heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Let it thicken for a couple of minutes.
If you have been following the Food Republic recipe, reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat. You can strain the sauce if it turned out too lumpy.
Other versions of Béchamel sauce may also contain onion, bay leaves, garlic cloves, salt, white pepper, paprika and/or onions. Cooking Light's guide to making Béchamel instructs simmering milk, onion, grated nutmeg and one bay leaf before covering the saucepan and letting it sit for 15 minutes.Then strain the mixture to collect the onion and bay leaf. Proceed as you would in the previously mentioned recipes.
Adjust the amount of milk you add to change the consistency: add less milk for thicker sauce and more milk for a thinner sauce. You can make a lighter version of Béchamel sauce by substituting chicken stock for part of the milk or by using low-fat milk instead of whole milk. You can also make a dairy-free or vegan version of Béchamel sauce by combining vegan butter or vegetable oil, flour and soy milk. If you substitute a stock-based liquid for milk, you end up with velouté, another one of the mother sauces. This is usually made with chicken, fish or veal stock.
Béchamel sauce is often used in macaroni and cheese, lasagna and moussaka. It can accompany white meat, hard boiled eggs, or add creaminess to many recipes. It also works as the base of Mornay sauce, which is made with cheese and popularly served with vegetables, pasta or fish. You can store Béchamel sauce in the refrigerator for up to two days.