Béchamel, also called white sauce, is a staple in any cook’s repertoire. It is used to make simple sauces like parsley or cheese sauce, to add a voluptuousness to ingredients that may be dry otherwise such as grilled fish and of course to provide a creamy layer in lasagne. Plus ways to turn this simple béchamel sauce into a cheese, caper, cream, herb, mushroom, onion or prawn sauce.
25g plain flour
1 bay leaf
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper
1 egg yolk (optional)
1. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan (non-stick is easier).
2. Add the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon, over gentle heat, for just a few minutes to let the flour cook. If you don’t cook it long enough at this stage the sauce will taste floury. You are making a roux which is the thickening agent for this sauce. (If the roux burns, throw it out, clean the saucepan and start again.)
3. Add a little milk to the flour and butter mixture and whisk. When it is amalgamated, add a little more milk and whisk again. Add more milk, little by little, until you have a thickish creamy sauce. Add the bay leaf and fresh nutmeg, if you are using it. Cook the sauce for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to stop it sticking. If you get lumps, press them with the wooden spoon against the side of the pan to mash them. When the sauce is ready, remove the bay leaf.
4. For a richer sauce, add a little of the hot sauce to a raw egg yolk in a cup, mix well, then re-introduce into the main sauce. Cook for another minute or two.
For a lasagne for 4-6 people, you’ll need double the recipe above.
If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk and heat to thin it out.
If you want to hold the sauce until later, press a piece of cling film on top of it to stop it forming a skin, leave to cool, then store in the fridge.
If the sauce is lumpy, pop it into a blender and whizz it.
Now you can add other ingredients to turn it into different sauces:
Cheese sauce: add grated cheese (this is what you use for lasagne or macaroni cheese)
Caper sauce: add chopped capers (good with fish)
Cream sauce: add fresh cream (makes an extra rich sauce for lasagne for example)
Green herb sauce: add chopped fresh herbs (good with any roast meat)
Parsley sauce: add fresh chopped parsley (to go with boiled bacon for a traditional Irish meal)
Mushroom sauce: add finely chopped fried mushrooms (great on top of a burger)
Onion sauce: simmer onion slices until in boiling water or fry them in butter until golden and cooked through. Whizz in a blender with the bechamel sauce.
Prawn sauce: add a quarter cup of cooked prawns to 250ml of white sauce, add freshly chopped parsley and serve with any plain white grilled fish.
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