It’s the cream in your Mac & Cheese, the finish to your signature lasagna, the velvety top to your Mousakka, the gooey goodness in your Croque Monsieur, Classic Béchamel Sauce broken down into in 4 Steps. A cornerstone sauce for your kitchen.
Sauce Béchamel, also known as White Sauce, is the easiest and most flexible of five Mother Sauces of the classic French kitchen and is a gateway to literally thousands of dishes in ANY kitchen!
One Sauce, Six Variations
In its French incarnation, Classic Béchamel Sauce is made with six ingredients: Butter, Flour, Milk, Nutmeg, Salt & Pepper. That’s it. Everything else is secondary. Some flavour the basic Béchamel sauce with onion, Bay Leaf and others prefer clove to nutmeg. I prefer nutmeg as I find it smoother and more complimentary to a wider variety of ingredients.
Mother Sauces are called Mother Sauces for a reason; each of them is the head of their own family of sauces.
From Béchamel Sauce we get:
Sauce Crème – the original cream sauce, whisk in heavy cream at the end.
Mornay Sauce – melt in gruyère and parmesan cheese.
Sauce Soubise – add sauteed, often pureed, onions.
Cheese Sauce – fold in a good, sharp cheddar (or any firm, grantable cheese).
Nantua Sauce – a seafood sauce with a base of shrimp or crayfish butter and cream.
Dairy-Free/Vegan Béchamel Sauce – substitute olive oil and soymilk for butter and milk.
Classic Béchamel Sauce in 4 Steps
As complicated as the end results may be, classical French Cuisine is, at its core, very simple. Béchamel Sauce thickens cold milk with a warm, white roux made from equal measures of butter and flour. If you break the technique down into four essential steps, it’s easy to remember:
Add flour, whisk to combine, toast roux for two to three minutes.
Whisk in cold milk, in two measures and thicken over medium-high heat for 3 – 5 minutes.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
No matter how many times you make it, in any quantity, always four steps: melt, roux, whisk milk, cook to thicken.
Can we make Béchamel Sauce from a cold roux? You bet we can. I often keep a roux in the fridge. It’s great for soups, stews and pesky sauces that take more time than I have to reduce or thicken. Let’s say I want to make a fast Mac & Cheese when I get home from work. Instead of weighing my butter and flour, I weigh the roux itself and then add the COLD roux to HOT milk for the same result.
The key to a good roux-based sauce: one element must be hot while the other must be cold for the proteins and gluten in the four to be activated and thicken.
Pro Tips For Beautiful Béchamel Every Time
In the professional kitchen, we work in weights as opposed to measures, and ratios as opposed to recipes. This way we can scale quickly and easily when the chef asks for 40 litres of Béchamel Sauce (and the chef HAS asked for 40 litres of sauce, trust me) – it’s a SNAP.
Weighing ingredients ensures accuracy. It’s easy to mound a measuring cup or tablespoon when measuring dry ingredients. Plus cold butter is so much easier to measure by weight. A good kitchen scale is accurate within a gram, which means you’ll be accurate within a gram!
Standard ratio for Béchamel Sauce:
70 grams of butter, 70 grams of flour, 1 litre (four cups) of milk
or 140 grams of roux to 1 litre (4 cups) of milk
Simple formula. Consistent results.
Know your Mother Sauces
Classic Béchamel Sauce in 4 Steps is part of our Mother Sauce, Back-to-Basics Series. Learning the basic sauces will do three things for you in the kitchen; first, it will make the basic sauces (Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato Sauce) second nature. Whenever we become comfortable with a new skill we automatically gain confidence, and confidence is essential in the kitchen. That confidence makes meals faster, without the need to stop and reference a recipe.
The minute you aren’t following someone else is the minute you find your own way in the kitchen!
And that, my friend, is freedom. The basic sauces of French Cuisine are the foundation for thousands of recipes across dozens of Western cultures. Cook with confidence.
Classic Béchamel Sauce in 4 steps. One of the Mother Sauces of classic French cooking, Béchamel, also known as White Sauce, is the gateway to literally thousands of dishes in the great big world of cuisine!
5 tablespoons butter (70 grams)
4 tablespoons flour (70 grams)
4cups milk (1 litre)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Add flour, whisk to combine, toast roux for two to three minutes to cook, whisking regularly so it doesn’t burn or brown. you will know the flour is well cooked when your roux starts to smell like cookies.
Whisk in cold milk, in two measures, and thicken over medium-high heat for 3 – 5 minutes, whisking regularly so your sauce doesn’t settle and scorach.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to your liking.
Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.