Béchamel sauce is a classic white sauce that the French call a roux. I used to be daunted by the prospect of making a béchamel sauce but it is very easy and can be varied and used for a number of different recipes as well as a basis for an easy thickening agent.
- 15fl oz (425ml) milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 whole black peppercorns
- ¼ onion
- 2 oz/ 50g butter
- ¾oz/20g plain flour
- salt and pepper
- Gently warm the milk, bay leaf, peppercorns and onion over a low heat simmer for at least 5 minutes. Strain the milk and discard the bay leaf, peppercorns and onion. Cover the milk and use when ready to make the sauce.
- Melt the butter gently over a very low heat, be sure not to over heat the butter. Once melted add the flour and vigorously mix together using a wooden spoon until it becomes a smooth paste. Add a little of the milk stirring constantly until the milk is fully incorporated. Continue to add a little of the milk, stirring and mixing into a smooth paste. This requires a little patience but is worth it, if you try to rush by turning up the heat you will have a lumpy sauce. After you have incorporated about half the milk you can add the remainder in one go continuing to stir until the mixture maintains a constant creamy texture and glossy appearance.
- Turn off the heat and cover. When ready to use warm over the lowest heat, season with salt and pepper to your personal taste and stir well.
For an excellent thickening agent make the butter and flour base in step 2 (in smaller quantities). If you are wanting to thicken say a soup incorporate a little of the soup liquid to the butter and flour and continue to do so until this reaches a consistently smooth texture. Then add this mixture to the soup bit by bit stirring constantly until you reach the desired thickness.