Chef Notes: The Sauce of Champions

Chef Notes: The Sauce of Champions

I’ve become a big fan of béchamel (white) sauce. It’s creamy with nutmeg, so how bad can it be?  Plus, it’s versatile, can be made in large batches, and frozen for later use. Béchamel is one of five French mother sauces.  The others are espagnole (brown sauce), hollandaise, tomato, and veloute.  (The original five included vinaigrette and not tomato but somewhere along the line vinaigrette was dropped and tomato was added.)  These sauces are the cornerstones of French cooking and virtually all sauces, with the exception of quick pan sauces, are derivatives of a mother sauce and are referred to as “small sauces.”


Béchamel is roux based with milk. Some keep it very basic and add only salt and pepper. But a traditional béchamel has a lot going on. First let’s talk roux. Roux is simply equal parts fat (typically butter) and flour.  Roux’s are browned to various levels depending on the dish. The colors are described as light (or white), blond, peanut butter, brown and brick. The darker the roux the less thickening power it has. A béchamel uses white/blond color.

The ratio for béchamel depends on the desired thickness. Per cup of milk: one tablespoon of flour and one tablespoon of butter for a thin sauce, two tablespoons of each for a medium sauce, and for a thick sauce use three tablespoons. My instructions assume four cups of medium-thick sauce.

Put four cups milk into a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add a medium onion (peeled and halved), one large bay leaf, six whole garlic cloves, two large peeled whole garlic cloves, a small pinch of white pepper, and a healthy pinch of kosher salt. Bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered while preparing your roux.

Over medium heat, melt ½ cup of butter in a large skillet. Add ½ cup of flour. Stir constantly until the flour begins to take on a touch of color. In this case, you’d rather error on the side of too little color than too much. The idea is to just take the rawness off of the flour. Quickly strain your milk and begin to slowly whisk into your roux. Simmer until the desired thickness. Remove from heat. Stir in one finely grated whole nutmeg and adjust salt and white pepper.

The uses are endless. Stir in browned, crumbled breakfast sausage and serve over biscuits or toast. Melt in grated mozzarella and parmesan and use as a sauce in white lasagna, or alternate with red sauce in a traditional lasagna. Add shredded gruyere and serve over chicken breasts or pasta, called Mornay sauce. Add seafood such as crab, salad sized shrimp, bay scallops, or lobster meat and serve as a sauce over baked fish or pasta (called Nantua sauce). Stir in prepared whole mustard seeds for a delicious mustard sauce to serve over salmon. Melt in cheddar cheese, a splash of Worcestershire, and a pinch of dry mustard and you have a banging cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese.

You only need a couple of small spoonfuls when using as a sauce over chicken, fish, pork, meatloaf, etc to add flavor and texture without a ton of calories. I’m not saying that it’s light but it doesn’t take much to add a lot to an otherwise naked entrée.


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  1. Cecile Sharp
    September 30, 10:36 Reply

    Thank you Chef Amanda. I can see you are not only a gifted Chef, but a wonderful teacher as well. Your article is well written and creates the desire of the reader to drop everything to give your recipe a try!

  2. Amanda Digges
    October 01, 11:04 Reply

    Hello Cecile. Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you try and love the sauce as much as I do.

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