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thickened bechamel sauce dripping of a wooden spoon into a cast iron pan

Making Bechamel (White Sauce) From Scratch

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One of the five mother or leading sauces in French cuisine, Bechamel Sauce is simply a milk sauce flavored with onion and herbs, and then thickened with a roux. Commonly used to make cheese sauces for pasta, (notably Alfredo sauce), bechamel sauce is traditionally used to make lasagna, potato gratin and scallop potatoes, as well as Mac & Cheese.

overhead shot of bechamel sauce in a cast iron pan, surrounded by various ingredients.

This is the third post in my series of Mother Sauces, sometimes also called leading or basic sauces. If you missed the first two recipes in the series you can read more about making hollandaise from scratch and this really easy homemade tomato sauce.

What Is Bechamel Sauce?

Traditionally made by simmering milk with a clove studded onion, bouquet garni, and then thickened with roux, bechamel sauce when made properly is a beautiful thing. Velvety smooth, rich, and full of flavor, this sauce forms a great base from which your imagination can create a wide range of flavors.

One of the first mentions of a bechamel style sauce places its origin in Italy, but it was Auguste Escoffier who formally classified it as one of the leading sauces, cementing its place in French cuisine. As mentioned above bechamel is most often used to create cheesy pasta sauces, but it can be equally well paired with seafood or roast chicken to create a more elegant meal.

While veloute sauce and bechamel sauce are both cream style sauces thickened with a roux, bechamel differs from veloute in that it uses milk as a base, whereas veloute uses a broth or stock.

Related:  How To Make Veloute Sauce (In Three Easy Steps)

Mastering Bechamel Sauce

Bechamel is one of the easiest Mother Sauces to master. Hollandaise is arguably the hardest. The great thing about bechamel is that since it’s only made with a few simple ingredients you can easily make a batch of this sauce and keep it refrigerated for a few days, using and flavoring it as needed.

Since this sauce is thickened with a roux I would caution against freezing it. While possible, the sauce will “split” as it thaws leaving chunky granular bits behind that need to be re-emulsified before using. This could be done with a blender or other mixing apparatus but adds an extra step that can be easily avoided.

Ingredients For Bechamel Sauce

To make this white sauce from scratch you’ll need a few basic ingredients. Note that the milk is first simmered with the base ingredients to flavor it, is then thickened with a white roux, and then seasoned with various seasonings.

Bechamel Sauce Base

  • 1L Milk
  • 1 medium sized onion, diced large
  • 1 pinch cloves
  • 4-5 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

White Roux

  • 62 grams of flour (for the roux)
  • 62 grams of melted butter (for the roux)

Optional Seasonings

  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • salt
  • Fresh lemon – optional

Instructions

  1. Begin by heating the milk over low heat in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot. Don’t just use a cheap pot especially one with a thin base as the milk will burn easily, ruining your sauce.
  2. Roughly chop the onion into a large dice (this makes it easier to fish out later), and add it to the milk along with the bay leaf, peppercorn, and cloves. Simmer gently for ten to fifteen minutes in the milk to infuse the flavors.onion, peppercorns, and a bay leaf simmering in a pot of milk in preparation of making bechamel sauce
  3. While the milk is simmering, measure out the ingredients for the roux, and then melt the butter in a separate pot. Add the flour with a whisk making a white roux. To learn why the butter and flour are measured out by weight, and not simply measured using measuring cups read this guide to using and making roux.a blonde roux in a metal sauce pan being stirred with a wooden spoon
  4. Strain the onion and bay leaf from the milk, and pour some of the hot milk into the roux. Make sure to whisk the mixture as you pour in the milk to avoid lumps. Pour the liquid-y roux back into the milk mixture. Lightly stir the sauce to properly incorporate the roux as the milk continues to heat over low. Chefs Note: By first adding some liquid to the roux and then adding that mixture to the rest of the milk, you avoid the risk of any clumping, resulting in a 100% smooth sauce.Strain the bechamel sauce before adding the roux to prevent lumps.
  5. Over medium low heat, continue to cook the bechamel for 15 to 20 minutes to fully cook out the flour. If you do not cook out the flour, you will be left with a grainy mouth feel and not a silky smooth texture. Try tasting the sauce right after adding the roux, and then again once the flour has cooked out. You will notice a big difference.Bechamel Sauce before and after the roux has been cooked out and thickened.
  6. Stir the bechamel periodically as the sauce slowly cooks, to ensure it does not burn to the bottom of the pot. If you do notice the sauce starting to burn or stick, (brown bits start appearing in the sauce) or you can feel the spoon/whisk scraping along the bottom,  immediately strain the sauce into a new pot to avoid ruining the bechamel, and continue over a lower heat setting.
  7.  Finish the bechamel sauce by seasoning it with 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. You can add a squeeze of lemon to the sauce if you like to add a little extra depth of flavor though this is not required.

If you are cooling the sauce for future use, place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the top of the sauce. This will prevent a “skin” from forming, which would ruin the smooth texture once reheated.

vertical image of bechamel sauce in a cast iron pan

How To Use Bechamel Sauce

Once you have mastered making this simple white sauce at home, it’s time to use it in other recipes of course!

  • The easiest recipe to use bechamel in is probably a lasagna or other casserole dish. Once the sauce has been thickened and seasoned, use the white sauce alternating-ly with tomato sauce to layer your lasagna. It can also be used on it’s own to create a ‘white’ lasagna without any tomato product.
  • Use the bechamel sauce to bind any type of casserole. Simple toss all the vegetables, proteins etc in some of the bechamel to bind all the ingredients together, and then bake the mixture in a casserole dish topped with cheese. You can easily make Mac & Cheese this way by first melting shredded cheddar cheese into the bechamel, then adding in cooked macaroni noodles, and baking it in the oven.
  • Scalloped Potatoes can be made by slicing and cooking potatoes, then adding garlic powder, julienne onion, and Parmesan along with the bechamel sauce to a casserole dish before baking.
  • You can also turn the bechamel sauce into an elegant Mornay Sauce. Melt any sharp cheddar or other hard cheese into the white sauce while whisking to create a cheesy cream sauce perfect for serving with fried fish or other seafood, roast chicken, or any number of vegetable dishes.

Tried the recipe? Comment & Rate below, then take a picture and tag me on Facebook & Instagram: @earthfoodandfire . For more from scratch recipes follow me on Instagram & Pinterest!

Bechamel Sauce (White Sauce)

Learn how to make bechamel sauce  (also called white sauce) from scratch to make pasta sauces, lasagna, potato gratins, and more the old fashioned way.
Course Sauce
Cuisine French
Keyword bechamel sauce recipe for lasagna, bechamel sauce uses
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 1 Liter
Calories 1237.4kcal
Author Markus Mueller | Earth, Food, and Fire

Ingredients

Bechamel Sauce Base

  • 1 L Milk
  • 1 medium Spanish onion diced large
  • 1 pinch cloves
  • 4-5 whole peppercorns
  • 1 individual bay leaf

White Roux

  • 62 grams All purpose flour for the roux
  • 62 grams Melted butter for the roux

Optional Seasonings

  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 squeeze Fresh Lemon Juice

Instructions

  • Begin by heating the milk over low heat in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot. 
  • Chop the onion into a rough large dice and add it to the milk along with the bay leaf, peppercorn, and cloves. Simmer gently for ten to fifteen minutes in the milk to infuse the flavors.
  • Melt the butter in a separate pot, and then add the flour with a whisk making a white roux.
  • Strain the onion and bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns from the milk. Pour some of the hot milk into the roux. Make sure to whisk the mixture as you pour in the milk to avoid lumps. Pour the liquid-y roux back into the milk mixture. Lightly stir the sauce to properly incorporate the roux as the milk continues to heat over low. 
  • Over medium low heat, continue to cook the bechamel for 15 to 20 minutes to fully cook out the flour. Stir periodically with a whisk to prevent the bechamel sauce from burning as it thickens.
  • Finish the bechamel sauce by seasoning it with 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. You can add a squeeze of lemon to the sauce if you like to add a little extra depth of flavor though this is not required.
  • Use the white sauce hot as is in any recipe calling for cream sauce, or add various flavorings to it such as cheddar cheese or herbs to create a sauce for use with any number of dishes. (Mac & Cheese anyone!?)

Notes

Stir the bechamel periodically as the sauce slowly cooks. This will ensure it does not burn to the bottom of the pot. If you do notice the sauce starting to burn or stick, (brown bits start appearing in the sauce), or you can feel the spoon/whisk scraping along the bottom,  immediately strain the sauce into a new pot to avoid ruining the bechamel, and continue over a lower heat setting.
If you are cooling the sauce for future use, place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the top of the sauce. This will prevent a "skin" from forming, which would ruin the smooth texture once reheated.

 

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Dont know the measurements as you used grams and I measure by tsp and cup.

    • Hi Suzi, sorry to hear you’re having trouble. The reason I used grams for the flour and butter section of the recipe is that, for a classic bechamel (which this recipe is), a roux is used to thicken it.
      The measurements required to make a roux need to be a weight measurement and not a volume measurement (such as tablespoon or cups for example)to properly work. This is because 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of butter (as an example) are not actually equal in weight as they each have different weights per gram/oz. If you prefer using ounces. The 62 grams referenced in the recipe equals to 2.2 oz.
      I hope this helps!

      Chef Markus

  2. Yeah béchamel! I love this sauce – it appears a few times in recipes in my book and my testers were all so thrilled when they realised they were making béchamel (sounds fancy!).

  3. Heck yes to bechamel! My homemade mac + cheese is the delicacy it is within our group of friends/family because I use bechamel. I think it’s under-appreciated; it does so many great things. Perhaps it’s a little forgotten due to the fact that everyone is taking shortcuts these days? So, I’m really glad you made this post. Really digging this series!

  4. There is nothing like fresh bechamel sauce on pasta – in lasagna… mmmm heaven. I love how you really explain it here, and am excited to see the other sauces you cover

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