A thought from last night:

I made a tasty dinner for Vaughn and myself last night. The main ingredients were simple: box of mezze penne, fresh broccoli, Morningstar Farm frozen chik'n strips, and a bechamel sauce.

Hold up...

Bechamel? Simple?

Well sure! Don't be daunted by this staple of French cuisine! This creamy multitasker can be used in many dishes and is often used as a base for other flavorful sauces.

What is a bechamel anyway?

A bechamel is a white cream sauce of French origin and is considered one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. A roux is made with butter and flour and scalded milk is whisked in. The roux acts as a thickener. Tiny particles of flour are individually encapsulated by fat (in this case, butter), which aids in the prevention of lumps by creating a barrier between the particles. When the milk is added, the starch in the flour swells and gelatinizes, thus the thickening.

Roux? Isn't that difficult to make?

A "blond" roux isn't as hard as the "brick" or "chocolate" roux used in gumbo. The flour and butter mixture is cooked for a very short amount of time. The cooking renders a very light brown color (hence blond) and cooks off the unpleasant raw flour taste. As long as you whisk constantly your roux should come out beautifully.

Okay, how do you make a bechamel?

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons white all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk, scalded
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg (optional)


Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Sprinkle flour over the butter and whisk constantly. Cook the paste for about 2 minutes, but don't let it brown. Add the milk in a slow, steady stream, and continue to stir. Bring to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients, lower the heat and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Note on serving: It is best to prepare a bechamel just before serving to prevent a skin from forming. If storing for later use, cover the top of the sauce with waxed paper and stash it in the refrigerator. Reheat in a saucepan over medium heat.

Note on milk: I use whole milk because that's what we have on hand. Cream and 2% are fine. Skim is sorta lacking in substance and I don't recommended it for cooking. Also, I don't scald the milk. I recommend letting it come to room temperature. The practice of scalding the milk was established to kill off bacteria in times before milk was pasteurized.

Note on lactose intolerance: Dairy isn't my friend. However, studies have shown that heating dairy breaks down the lactose sugars, making them easier to digest. Bechamels and other cooked dairy products do not bother me, so I encourage you to give them a shot.

Note on nutmeg: See the little nuts in the header at the top of the page? That's whole nutmeg. Whole nutmeg is an essential pantry item and beats the pants off of the pre-ground alternative. Use a microplane or fine rasp side of a box grater to shave off what you need. Store the whole nutmeg in a ziplock bag or small glass spice jar. I love the sweet flavor of nutmeg in creamy concoctions, but if you don't like the taste you can definitely skip it.


Mornay: (cheese sauce): Add a cup of finely shredded cheese to the sauce in small handfuls. Stir in each addition before adding more. A popular cheese for this sauce is Gruyère.

Soubise (onion sauce): Sweat onions in butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. Set aside. Prepare bechamel sauce. Add onions when salt and pepper are added. Often times this sauce is sent through a chinoise to produce a smooth texture.


Pasta, pizza, eggs, meat, potatoes, asparagus, countless other veggies, you name it! A bechamel is perfect for uniting ingredients, like with the dish I made last night. Pasta, broccoli, and chik'n are good tossed together, but stirring in a bechamel to the mix marries the flavors.

Have some fun with this sauce. Add it to your next dish. Try variations.

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