Classic French Bechamel sauce is used for a million different applications and recipes. A bechamel sauce is the combination of a Roux and milk coming together in a rich and smooth sauce.
When it comes to making sauces there is one variable that I feel is the key to success. That would be timing. Working in the kitchen is very much like dancing, having your ingredients all laid out and ready to move when the timing is just right. Being just a little off can result in failure and having to start over.
Making Classic French Bechamel Sauce and Timing
One of the first things students learn in culinary school is timing. There is great satisfaction cooking in a kitchen, doing the dance, having all our ingredients laid out, each one measured out perfectly just waiting to be called upon. This is called Mise en Place.
Mise en Place (MEEZ ahn Plahs) the French culinary term that means having all your ingredients measured, peeled, sliced, cut, grated, etc before you begin cooking. This also means having your pot and pans, mixing bowls, knifes, tool etc layout.
This area is the main reason most cooks make mistakes in the kitchen. Cooking well requires planning and thought, so when you begin it's like you've already made your recipe and you're only repeating. This process of thinking things through before beginning is often where you catch your mistakes before they happen. "Oh, I forgot about the Garlic" Sounds obvious, but we all know we've done this many times. Only if we had done our Mise en Place...
Making the Roux for Bechamel Sauce
What is a Roux?
-Roux is a mixture of flour and a fat, often butter, coming together as one, like a paste. Acts as a thickener for sauces/soups.
Bechamel sauce in its traditional form ( meaning a number of sauces stem from Bechamel sauce) is known as a "White" sauce. To create a white sauce, the beginning factor is the Roux, which needs to be a Blond Roux. A Blond Roux is just a Roux that has been cooked, but without adding any color which would darken the sauce. High-quality butter is often golden and can impart some color, but the Roux would still constitute a Blond Roux
Making the Roux
This recipe can be multiplied by two, three, etc to met your quantity needs. Roux's are usually equal parts of flour and butter. In the case of Bechamel sauce, I find that the sauce tries to tighten up too quickly due to the liquid being milk ( higher fat content than stocks - think Veloute sauce) creating a need to need to doctor the sauce when it's close to being done ( Too thick ). The Roux acts as the thickening agent for the sauce and is activated overheat. To fix this issue, use a little bit less thickening power, adding less flour.
Our Bechamel Sauce recipe calls for 4 tablespoons Butter & 3 Tablespoons Flour
- Start by melting the butter over medium-high heat-
Next, add the Flour - 3 Tablespoons
Key: Cook out the Flour - Allow the Flour to absorb the Butter and hydrate the Flour - This ensures the Bechamel sauce isn't grainy.
Incorporating the Milk
Might look simple, and it is, but done incorrectly can cause issues. Our recipe calls for 2 ¼ Cups of Whole Milk. The key is not adding all the Milk at once. I'm sure you've seen cooks on TV just add all the Milk and everything turns out just fine. Remember we are talking about TV. The reason we do not add all the milk at once is lumps and the reaction of the Flour in the Roux. When making Bechamel sauce, normally cooks will use cold Milk. Adding cold milk to a hot Roux will cause the sauce to try to thicken once the Milk heats up, which is very fast. This is a good thing and the reason we only add in one-third of our Milk. It's like a jump start to the thickening process of the Bechamel sauce.
- Cook Out Flour From Roux ( Hydrating the Flour with the Butter)
- Add in ⅓ of the Milk over Medium-High Heat and Stir constantly. The sauce will start to thicken. (stir about 2 minutes)
- Next, add the remaining milk and keep stirring. Do not leave the sauce unattended at this point and turn the heat up and bring to a soft boil. ( Soft boil - once the top of the sauce begins to bubble turn heat down immediately )
- With the heat off add in the Half Onion and Nutmeg and cover and allow to thicken.
Classic Flavoring for Bechamel Sauce
Often cooks are familiar with is called a White sauce, which would be what we have at this point. But a white sauce is not a Bechamel sauce, but a Bechamel is a White sauce.
The addition of Nutmeg, Onion & Clove makes it a true Bechamel. Cooks often mislabel White sauces as Bechamel sauce.
One of your Mise en Place is to prep the onion. Cut in half, remove the outer cover.
The cloves need one step. Remove the small seed from the middle of the Clove. This is too strong of a flavor as my Chef from Culinary school says. The flavor will still perfume the sauce, but just the right amount. Place 7 Cloves stems on the half onion
The Nutmeg, if you can, use fresh nutmeg and grate it over a microplane. The outer cover of Nutmeg is called Mace.
Classic Recipe To Use A Bechamel Sauce
New Recipe Coming This Week
- 3 Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
- 4 Tbsp High-Quality Butter
- 2 ¼ Cups of Whole Milk
- 7 Cloves
- Good Pinch of Nutmeg
- ½ Onion
- Cut Onion in half, remove the small ball on the end of the cloves. We are only using the stems. Place 7 Clove stems in the half Onion.
- First, melt butter over medium-high heat, then add the flour and coat all the flour in butter.
- "Cook-Out" the flour. Allow the flour to absorb the butter. This will help ensure the Bechamel sauce will not be grainy.
- Next, add in ⅓ of the Milk and stir constantly. The sauce will try to thicken. Add the remaining Milk at this point. Keep stirring. Allow the Milk to come to a soft boil. (Soft boil means the bubbles are breaking the surface, but not a full boil)
- Once at a soft boil turn off heat. The sauce will thicken. If the sauce gets too thick for your purposes add a little more Milk to thin out the sauce. Remember the heat activates the Roux and thickens.
- Add the Nutmeg, to taste. Stir and incorporate
- Add the Onion with the Cloves to the pot.
- Cover the pot for 4 to 5 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.