Cooking the Classics: White sauce (Béchamel)

I once read that white sauce is the first thing one would be taught how to make in a basic cooking course. Apparently, it was also one of the absolutely essential recipes a housewife should master. Up until two weeks ago, I had never made white sauce in my life. And when I did, it didn’t go so smoothly…Which is saying a lot about my marriage prospects.

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We used to buy the ready-made white sauce from Tesco. It comes in short tubs and it’s kind of thicker than you’d expect. I mean, it makes a ‘plop’ sound when you “pour” it in the pan. Which is not exactly appetising. Don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious but I had a feeling it doesn’t really compare to the real thing.

This is a pretty straightforward recipe. You start by making a white roux. Do you know what a roux is? I didn’t. It’s apparently melted butter to which you add some flour. It is also the step in the recipe I must have messed up. Except I’m not sure how. You just melt the butter, remove from heat, add the flour and mix, and then return to the heat for a tiny little bit. Simple, right? I have a suspicion that I used slightly less butter than I was supposed to, because when I added the flour, the mixture didn’t resemble a thick, buttery sauce. Instead it was more like fine breadcrumbs in melted butter. No matter how hard I whisked it, the little lumps weren’t going away.

I considered starting over but I had used the last of the butter so I just pushed on with adding the milk. You simply add the milk in two stages, heating up the mixture in between. You add salt and pepper and once the sauce coats the back of a spoon, it’s done. At that stage my béchamel was still a little bit lumpy. So I filtered it through a sieve. What? I’m sure french chefs do this all the time.

My plan was to use the white sauce (which was really tasty by the way) to make Cauliflower Cheese, which I love. But there wasn’t any cauliflower at the market so I bought broccoli and some leeks instead. And I made Broccoli and Leek Cheese.

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This is a really simple meal which is why it’s not the end of the world that I forgot to write down the quantities of the ingredients or cooking time. I’ll try to be better next time. Anyway, you start by chopping the broccoli into large-ish pieces and cut the leeks in half-inch wide discs. Boil the veggies for a few minutes until they are cooked but still have a bit of bite to them. Then, cut and sweat one onion in some oil until it’s soft and golden.

The next step is optional but I highly recommend it. Slice a couple of bacon rashers and fry it until it starts getting crispy. While the bacon is frying, grate some cheese. We used fancy hickory and oak smoked back bacon and smoked farmhouse mature cheddar because that’s what we had at home but it works just as well with any kind you have at hand. You could even skip the bacon and just add croutons if you want to keep it vegetarian.

Put the cook veggies, onion, and bacon in an oven dish and pour the béchamel in too. Give them a good stir and then add the grated cheese on top. Stick the dish under the oven grill for about ten minutes until the sauce is bubbling the cheese has melted into a delicious crust. Enjoy!

White sauce: Try again.

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17 thoughts on “Cooking the Classics: White sauce (Béchamel)

  1. joyweesemoll says:

    Yum! Your broccoli dish looks terrific. It’s been awhile since I’ve made white sauce, but I think I had trouble at the beginning, too, for the same reason. I got better when I made sure I had plenty of butter and flour around so I could change proportions as needed. It wasn’t as exact as the recipe made it sound and, probably, can depend on the amount of moisture in the flour.

    • bookworm says:

      Oh yes, that sounds like the way forward. If I had more butter around I could have added some to dissolve all of the flour. I’ll have another go soon. Thanks for the advice!

  2. jama says:

    You will perfect your roux with a little more practice — but I would say your broccoli dish looks good anyway. How can you go wrong with cheese and bacon? 🙂

  3. Janel says:

    I’d say pretty much everybody has dealt with lumps in some sauce or another. You’ll get the hang of it to make more of those yummy veggie and bacon casseroles!

  4. Cecelia says:

    I find the try-and-fail-and-try-again method of cooking to be very important to the learning cycle. And no one gets everything right the first time! Your dish looks appetizing anyway.

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