Otherwise known as white sauce. Nice white sauce. Not nasty packet sauce that tastes like wallpaper paste.
The very important thing to remember about a béchamel sauce is that it’s very bland. It’s not a sauce you pour over something on its own. It’s used as a base for other dishes such as soufflé and some gratins, and as a base for flavouring, especially cheese. It’s also useful when some blandness is necessary such as in a lasagne or canneloni when you want something smooth and plain to offset other strong flavours. A bit like a plain white shirt under a jazzy jacket.
Ingredients (enough to make a fish pie base for four people)
- 75g butter
- 75g flour
- 500ml milk
- A pan
- A whisk
Melt the butter nice and gently, and get it to the point of starting to bubble. But don’t let it go crazy. Tip in the flour and start to whisk briskly. Briskly whisk it. Turn the heat down to low-to-medium. It will froth and foam and then start to go thick and become a little paler. Keep on whisking it, scraping around the edges of the pan so it doesn’t stick and burn, for about two minutes. This mixture of cooked butter and flour is called a roux.
Start to add the milk, a good generous glug (about a teacupful) at a time. At this point you can turn the heat up a little bit, because the idea is that the milk heats up very quickly and you don’t have cold milk in contact with the hot butter/flour mixture for too long. Whisk vigorously. Whisk like billy-o. Keep adding the milk and whisking, making sure that the sauce has done some good bubbling and boiling before you add the next lot of milk. At first it won’t look very lovely. But then the more you whisk and add milk (still only a glug at a time) the more smooth and velvety and lovely it will become. Obviously you can stop adding milk if you think the sauce is already thick enough, or add more if you want it thinner. Remember to add salt and pepper at the end.
And there it is. White sauce. Béchamel.