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Béchamel Sauce

Béchamel-The King of the Mother Sauces

A sauce by definition is basically a liquid and a thickening agent plus any other ingredient/s added for flavoring. In the culinary world, sauces are categorized under one of five mother sauces. These mother sauces are referred to as large sauces while their spawn are known as small sauces. For example Béchamel is a large sauce, while cheese sauce made from it is a small sauce.

Béchamel, also known as the king of the mother sauces was named for its French inventor, Louis XIV’s steward, Louis de Béchamel. Known for its versatility along with its deceptively creamy (there is no cream in it) and velvety texture, is what most people commonly refer to as white sauce. It is likely the simplest of the mother sauces to master and requires just a few ingredients: milk, flour and butter. Its finished consistency depends solely upon how much flour and butter you add in ratio to milk. The exciting thing is that using just three basic ingredients, you can quickly master a simple Béchamel.

Simple Béchamel

Ingredients for Béchamel

  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Milk, heated

Ratios: One tablespoon each of butter and flour per cup of milk will result in a thin, easily pourable sauce. Two tablespoons of each will result in a medium-thick sauce. Three tablespoons of each would be used for a thick sauce.

Directions for Béchamel

Ingredient amounts are determined by what consistency you desire your finished sauce to be (thin, medium or thick; see above). In a saucepan, over gentle heat, melt butter, and then add your flour, stirring with a whisk while cooking.

Continue to whisk for a moment or two so that the rawness of your flour is cooked out. At this stage, this mixture is called a roux.  Remember, Béchamel is a white sauce, so particular care should be taken to ensure your roux does not become browned.

Add heated milk, continuing to whisk until the sauce is thickened and smooth. For a flavored Béchamel, add an onion studded with cloves to your milk while it’s warming, and then strain it before adding it to your roux.

Many sauces, including cheese sauce, Mornay sauce and mustard sauce are variations of Béchamel; it is often used as a key element in the making of lasagna, cream soups or macaroni and cheese as well as many other dishes. One such dish is Fisherman’s Pie, a traditional British dish. It is a wonderful dish and a great way to experiment with Béchamel.

Fisherman's Pie

Fisherman’s Pie

White fish in Béchamel is combined with savory vegetables then topped with hearty mashed potatoes. It’s the perfect casserole style dish for your next family round table.

Ingredients For the potato topping:

  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup milk

Ingredients For the fish:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2-1/2 cups milk, hot
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1-1/2 pounds white fish (cod, hake or Pollock), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ pound medium shrimp, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add 2 tablespoons butter and melt. Stir in onion, salt and pepper and continue to cook until onion is transparent.

Stir in flour and cook for 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Stir in dry mustard and milk; continue to cook stirring often until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Add peas and bring mixture back up to a boil. Add fish and shrimp; cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in ½ cup of cheese and parsley. Pour fish mixture into casserole dish.

Top with large spoonful’s of mashed potatoes. Gently spread potatoes over filling all of the way to the edges of dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon of butter. Bake for 35 minutes or until the edges are bubbly and the top is golden brown.

Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making

Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making
“Sauces”, former winner of the prestigious James Beard Cookbook-of-the-Year award and the ultimate reference for saucemaking, is now available in a new, updated, and revised edition. With more 325 recipes in all, “Sauces” includes all-new chapters on Asian sauces and pasta sauces, plus new recipes that cater to lighter, contemporary tastes. Includes a 32-page color insert with more than 100 color photos of sauce-making techniques Pub: 10/97.

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About Marla Tetsuka

Chef Marla is a Gulf Coast, Mississippi based food writer, professional chef and culinary consultant. While earning her degree from Le Cordon Bleu she brings a unique blend of classic culinary training and interests in cultural diversity to her many projects. Her career path has followed her passion for food with her recipes and articles appearing in publications around the world.

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