Of all the sauces, Béchamel is one of my very favorite. Not only is it easy as sin (if you have a standard amount of patience) but it’s the base for many beloved comfort foods, including mac ‘n cheese, gratinéed casseroles, and Northern Italian lasagna. Instead of adding thickness through fat alone, as in a butter or cream-based sauce, you create a fat and flour mixture, a roux, which thickens as the water in the milk evaporates. Translation: an easy, yummy, unctuous sauce without the guilt.
I’ll give you the ingredients and basic temperatures. Watch the videos that accompany each step. I guarantee you will laugh at me at more than one point. (And if not, that means I’m doing something right!) I will get this right.
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 tablespoon of neutral or olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of all-purpose bleached flour
- about 1/2 cup minced white onion or shallot
- optional: 1-2 minced cloves of garlic
- 2-3 cups of milk
- generous sprinkling of nutmeg
- generous sprinkling of smoked paprika
- pinch of saffron threads
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat pan. After thirty seconds or so, add butter and oil. When butter foams, chuck in your onions. In the video, my onions were in the same prep bowl as my garlic and I threw them in together. I don’t recommend this because I prefer a more raw garlic than roasted garlic flavor because garlic cooks in seconds and onions in minutes, but $h*! happens when you’re the cook and cameraperson.
When onions the are glassy and starting to break down, but before they’ve browned around the edges, this would be a fine time to add the garlic if you want a mellow garlic flavor. Otherwise, get your flour out and chuck that into the skillet, preparing to stir it in very well. If you’re like me and have a distaste for directions, feel free to put the flour in after the milk step. In my experience, it doesn’t make that much of a taste difference.
After about a minute, add your milk, and turn up the heat. When the conconction starts to both boil and develop an almost skin, this is your cue to stir it pretty constantly while it reduces. Lower the temperature somewhat so that the sauce simmers. If after five minutes you’re not noticing much thickness, add in about a teaspoon or more flour. Be conservative. This sauce will reduce, you just need to attend to it.
At this point, I add my seasonings. In the video, I use saffron soaked in a bit of water, but I normally just chuck in a pinch of saffron with several very healthy shakes of nutmeg and smoked paprika. I recommend a healthy hit of kosher salt at this point. Keep stirring.
Depending on how thick you want this sauce, you need to start monitoring its viscosity. You can thicken a sauce easily, but thinning it is less so, especially if you didn’t want to go the cream route. In most of the recipes that use this sauce, it’s put in the oven and baked where it will continue to thicken.
Deploy béchamel as needed. I’m using it for a turnip, potato, and bacon gratin. When you add béchamel, potato, and bacon to a dish and bake it with cheese, even the pickiest of eaters will not resist. They just ignore that you mentioned there were turnips in there – if you even mentioned it in the first place, silly you – and scarf it down. Cooking success.