Béchamel sauce (sometimes also known as White sauce) is one of the five ‘mother sauces’. These base sauces in French cooking can be used to create many other sauces and can complement loads of dishes. It is one of those basics everyone should know how to make. Béchamel is used for recipes like my Classic Homemade Lasagne, macaroni and cheese or a delicious Croque Madame.
A basic béchamel is made with just three main ingredients: butter, flour and milk. You can upgrade this béchamel sauce by adding extra ingredients like herbs, spices or cheese.
Making the roux
For a basic béchamel, you first have to make a roux. To do this you have to melt your butter in a saucepan. Make sure it is properly melted, but not yet browning. Add the flour in one go. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix the flour with the melted butter and scrape the sides of the saucepan. Cook out the roux for about 2 minutes in order to cook the flour. Always use equal parts (in weight) of butter and flour. Don’t brown this mixture, you don’t want a brown sauce.
I always have a carton of sterilized milk in my pantry. Sterilized milk has been heat-treated, this gives it a much longer shelf life and it doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened. You can use it exactly the same as you would fresh milk. To make this sauce extra rich I like to use full-fat milk. Don’t add cold milk from the refrigerator. Make sure it’s at least room temperature or warm.
Add a little bit of milk first, just a splash, and using a whisk mix it through. Then gradually add more milk while continuing to whisk the sauce. The sauce will look clumpy when you first add the milk, then too runny and thin, but eventually, it will come together beautifully. It will become a velvety smooth sauce perfect for lasagne or other pasta dishes. Don’t forget to add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Some people prefer to use white pepper instead of black pepper. This is just to keep the sauce white, personally, I don’t mind the black specks of pepper in my bechamel sauce. A pinch of nutmeg is a classic addition to this sauce. Freshly grated nutmeg will elevate this sauce to a whole new level, but regular ground nutmeg will also work.
You could also melt in some cheese (you are then essentially changing your Béchamel into a Mornay sauce. This is delicious on top of some cauliflower or use it for a decadent ‘Croque Madame’ sandwich. Check out my recipe of this queen of grilled cheese sandwiches!
Tips & Alternatives
- If the sauce turns out too thick you can always add a little bit more milk. Just add a little bit at a time and whisk it through.
- Leftover béchamel sauce can be kept in the fridge for about 5 days. Make sure to put a layer of cling film to the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming. Reheat the sauce in a saucepan, add extra milk if needed to make the sauce thinner.
- This ‘white sauce’ can be easily turned into a cheese sauce (or Mornay Sauce). After finishing the last steps add in some freshly grated cheese of your choice. Don’t use pre-grated cheeses, these have been treated with anti-clumping agents that can make your sauce become grainy.
- For extra flavour, you can infuse the milk with herbs before adding it to the roux. To do this you warm up the milk in a saucepan with herbs and spices added to it. A classic version of infused milk is to add half an onion with a bay leaf and a couple of cloves. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes so the flavours can infuse. Make sure to strain out all the extras before adding the milk to the roux.
More Recipe Inspiration
Use this Béchamel sauce to make this Classic Homemade Lasagne. It's the perfect comfort food in an oven dish! Rich, bubbly and cheesy, this lasagne is always a winner!