As you well know, unless this is the first time you’ve arrived at my site (in which case, hello!), I am not a profoundly talented chef. I’m not going to go into a whole line of false modesty and say I’m the type to burn water. I’m pretty good. I’m just not “technically” good.
With that being said, there are some classic culinary skills which I have been teaching myself for 2 reasons.
- Because any job worth doing is worth doing properly. The fundamentals of cooking really do put the fun into fundamental. Learning the history and classic techniques behind some of the most basic and enduring aspects of cookery somehow adds an extra layer of awesomeness to each meal. Also, should you inadvertently find yourself on Masterchef or any other show of that ilk and you can’t do these simple tasks, Greg is going to bad mouth you behind your back.
- It’s much, much cheaper. Seriously, so very, very cheap. I am, by no means, a rich man. I’m not destitute but I’m not walking around, making it rain money. Anything which saves me money to spend on video games and beer, or like bills and stuff if you’re into that, is a bonus for me.
I learned to make Béchamel sauce simply because I had already walked to the shop for lasagne supplies and forgot to pick up white sauce. Undeterred and incredibly unwilling to put my shoes back on, I opened up one of the cookbooks I borrowed from my sister and went about making it myself.
I didn’t know where my scales were, my measuring jug was full of congealed pork fat for a different project and I read the page once, put it somewhere safe and cracked on. That’s how simple this sauce can be. Even with those hurdles, I ended up with a delicious sauce which brought my lasagne to life.
So, what is Béchamel sauce?
Béchamel sauce is one of the French “Mother sauces”. Obviously, as a standalone statement, that means about as much as Béchamel sauce can be used on stuff.
It is also known as “white sauce” because some people lack imagination and it’s used in loads of dishes you may not have realised.
As I clearly pointed out up there, it’s the white sauce used in lasagne, it is also used in Mac ‘n’ Cheese (the proper one, not the boxed one you animal), cauliflower cheese, fisherman’s pie (which, if you’re reading this in the future, there will be a recipe for round about here) and so much more. It’s like a really tasty glue which holds dishes together. Which is pretty apt, given the ingredients.
Now, how do we make this wonderful sauce?
Ah, the bit you actually care about. So let’s get down to it.
Plain Flour (you can substitute in gluten free flour, I never have but I’m sure it’s fine)
Milk (the amount depends on you and I’ll explain that in a minute)
1 White Onion
Pinch of Grated Nutmeg
- Cram a load of cloves into your onion and put it into a pan with the celery and milk
- Simmer the milk for about 10 minutes and then strain it out (keeping the milk, obviously)
- In another, clean pan, melt the butter slowly. You know how I said that this is a white sauce? Well, you need to be pretty careful not to burn the butter. If you do, all is not lost. Just use it as a Roux. Throw in some bacon grease and flour and use it in a Gumbo. Then, learn from your mistakes and start again.
- With the butter melted, whisk in the equal amount of flour. You need to be fairly rapid about this so you don’t end up with lumpy stodge.
- Once all of that is mixed in, it’s time for the milk. The amount of milk you need entirely depends on how thick you want your sauce. While adding in the milk, also whisk in some nutmeg.
- A little bit of milk is good for a nice thick sauce which can be used in souffles (so I’ve heard). So if you’re making one just use equal parts milk and the other ingredients
- Medium thickness is about a 2:1 ratio of milk to sauce. This is the ratio I used for my lasagne.
- If you’re aiming for a pouring sauce, then just go nuts. I don’t mean like 1 pint per spoon of sauce, just pour it in until it feels right. I have no idea what you would want a pouring Béchamel sauce for but if you do, there you go.
With this classic base sauce in hand (or in pan, because it’s going to be pretty warm for a bit) you can go on to make loads of classic French sauces.
Stir in some Cheddar cheese for the wonderfully named, Cheddar Cheese Sauce (someone really phoned that one in).
Crème sauce uses heavy cream in place of milk and is perfect for those days you wonder what a heart attack feels like.
You can add in sweated onions, mustard, fish stock. There are so many different directions that you can go in with this!