One of the five mother sauces of classic French cuisine, béchamel is a versatile, creamy white sauce that serves as the foundation for countless dishes. Commonly used in lasagna and mac and cheese, it’s a thickened mixture that involves first cooking flour in butter to create a roux, then whisking in milk to form a silky sauce. Traditionally the milk is heated first before it’s whisked into the roux, but in the interest of saving time (and minimizing cleanup!), this method adds cold milk in small increments while whisking to prevent clumping. Béchamel can also jump-start many other sauces: Add grated Parmesan or Cheddar for an all-purpose cheese sauce, or mix in cooked ground sausage to make a rich breakfast gravy.
- Serves: 1 person
- 2tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 ½cups whole milk
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (or white pepper)
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Step 1In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low. Add flour, whisk until smooth and cook until flour is no longer raw, about 1 minute. (Be sure to whisk all around the edges of the pan to prevent scorching.)
Step 2Whisking constantly, slowly add ¼ cup of the milk in a thin stream and whisk until liquid is absorbed. (This happens very quickly. The mixture will seize up, but it will loosen as more milk is added.) Slowly add another ¼ cup of the milk in a thin stream and whisk until mixture is smooth. Repeat with remaining ¼ cup portions of the milk, whisking constantly until mixture is smooth before adding the next batch of milk.
Step 3Once all of the milk is incorporated, continue to cook over medium-low, stirring frequently, until it starts to simmer and the sauce thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg (if using).
Step 4If not using immediately, transfer to a heatproof bowl and press the top with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Béchamel can be refrigerated for 3 days; reheat gently over low heat, adding a splash of milk or water if too thick.