For centuries, bèchamel sauce (pronounced besh-ah-mel) has been the mortar that supports the house of French cuisine. With its buttery, faintly nutty flavor, bèchamel is also the base of hot soufflès and such homey dishes as macaroni and cheese and pot pies. You can modify bèchamel in many ways to suit the dish it garnishes. For example, if you're cooking fish, you can add fish stock to the sauce. If you are cooking poultry, you can add chicken stock.
Bèchamel may be most recognized by most as the sauce used in a Croque Monsieur. One of my personal favorite simple French dishes.
There are many variations on bèchamel and I will provide a simple, uncomplicated, yet authentic version here.
BèchamelBèchamel and its variations go with all kinds of foods, including poached and grilled fish, chicken, veal, and vegetables like pearl onions, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. The thickness of bèchamel varies from dish to dish.
Tools- Small saucepan, medium saucepan, wire whisk
Preparation time: About 5 minutes
Cooking time: Approximately 8 minutes
Yield: 1 cup, or 8 servings
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, or to taste
Salt and pepper
- Heat the milk over medium heat in a small saucepan until almost boiling. (If the milk is hot when you add it to the butter and flour, there is less chance that the bèchamel will be lumpy.)
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat (don't let it darken or burn). Add the flour and whisk constantly for 2 minutes. (Your're cooking the loose paste, or roux, made from the butter and flour.) The roux should reach a thick paste consistency.
- Gradually add the hot milk while continuing to whisk the mixture vigorously. When the sauce is blended smooth, reduce heat and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, whisking frequently. The bèchamel should have the consistency of a very thick sauce. Remove from heat, add the nutmeg and the salt and pepper to tasts, and whisk well.
Vary It! /whipping up some creamed spinach (or creamed vegetables in general) is a good way to try out your bèchamel making skills. Just add bèchamel to cooked spinach or other cooked vegetables, such as corn, peas, or sliced carrots.