Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sauce Béchamel (White sauce): Crème, Mornay, and Soubise

BéchamelBéchamel (pronounced bay-shah-mel) is a thickened white sauce, also known as a milk sauce and is one of the five mother sauces. (Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato are the others.)

Although I make a mean homemade mac ‘n cheese, I didn’t know I was in fact making Béchamel as a starting point. I used to run home from school everyday hoping we were getting macaroni and cheese for lunch and enjoying it while watching re-runs of Flintstones on TV. My daughters love homemade macaroni too, but I remember feeding it to my daughters and their friends, and their friends not finishing it because it wasn’t Kraft Dinner!

Some Notes about Béchamel
Béchamel is similar to velouté, but the liquid that’s added is milk not stock.

If you don’t include the veal in the recipe, it’s known as Béchamel Maigre (which means lean Béchamel).

Although you don’t have to heat the milk first, doing so makes it easier to achieve a smooth sauce. Also, the sauce thickens faster since it doesn’t have to come up to temperature first. There is great debate about whether to add hot liquid to cold roux or cold liquid to hot roux. I've done both, and as long as I've vigorously whisked it, I haven't had any lumps.

Steeping the milk with aromatics (such as thyme and bay) while you bring it to a boil enhances the flavor of the Béchamel.

The sauce should coat the back of a spoon, called nappe (pronounced nap), which means tablecloth in French.

Catherine de Medici's Tuscan cooks brought Béchamel to France from Italy in the 17th Century. The sauce was named after a courtier, Louis de Béchameil, marquis de Nointel (1630–1703) who was maitre d'hotel of the French King Louis XIV. (Wikipedia)

Watch a Pro
Click here to watch a pro make Béchamel.

Great articles
I found some great articles about Béchamel while researching this topic:
A roux awakening by Peter Hertzmann
History of Sauces by Linda Stradley at the website What's Cooking America
Cream Sauces - Béchamel and Hollandaise by Jack Lang at the eGullet Society

Recipe for Béchamel

Béchamel mise en placefrom Rogov's Ramblings

Makes about 2 cups

5 tablespoons clarified butter
50 grams very lean veal, small dice (you could use ½ cup veal stock instead)
5 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk, brought to a boil before using
2 tablespoons onion, chopped
1 sprig thyme
¼ or ½ bay leaf
pinch of nutmeg
salt and white pepper

In a small frying pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the clarified butter and cook the veal slowly without allowing it to brown.

In a saucepan, add the remaining clarified butter and the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes to make a blond roux. Add the milk. Whisk until smooth. Then add the veal and remaining ingredients and simmer gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Strain through a cheesecloth.

If you aren’t using the sauce right away, dot a few bits of butter on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Béchamel does not freeze well; it separates and thins.

Serve with fish, chicken, vegetables, eggs, or use it as a base for one of the following sauces. It’s nice served either hot or cold.

Crème, Mornay, and Soubise Sauce (White sauces derived from Béchamel)
Béchamel is a base for many classic sauces, including Crème, Mornay, and Soubise, which are compound sauces.

Crème, Mornay, and Soubise SauceCrème

from Rogov's Ramblings

1 cup Béchamel sauce
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
touch of lemon juice

Bring the Béchamel to a simmer and add the cream a tablespoonful at a time. Keep at a simmer. Continue adding the cream, stirring constantly until the sauce is at the consistency you want. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a bit of lemon juice.


I learned about Mornay sauce for the Gnocci à la Parisienne. Click here to watch a pro make Mornay sauce.

from Rogov's Ramblings

1 cup Béchamel sauce
¼ to ½ cup Gruyère cheese or mix of Gruyère and Parmesan, grated
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter

Bring the Béchamel to a simmer and remove from the heat. Stir in ¼ to ½ cup of coarsely grated Gruyère cheese or a mixture of Gruyère and finely grated Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt, pepper, nutmeg and paprika. Remove from the heat and then stir in 1 tablespoon of butter.



1 cup Béchamel sauce
3 tablespoons butter
2 sweet yellow onions (½ lb)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper

In a medium, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and add the onions and garlic. Sweat the onions on low heat for about 15 minutes, until they are translucent (not darkened), stirring often.

Bring the Béchamel to a simmer and add the onion mixture. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Check the consistency of the sauce. If it is thin, simmer gently until it thickens slightly. If it is too thick, add a little veal stock or milk.

Use a food processor or blender to process the sauce a bit, making sure to leave a bit of texture. You can also try rubbing the mixture through a sieve, pressing on it with a wooden spoon.

Return the soubise to a saucepan and gently reheat. Taste for seasoning.

The original recipe calls for a nip (30 mL) of pastis, Pernod, Ricard, or something similar, calling it optional, but divine.

Purple and Green Asparagus with BéchamelTasting Notes
I used the Béchamel sauce on purple and green asparagus, and it was delicious! The subtle hint of nutmeg, thyme, and bay made this sauce a perfect pairing with the crunchy asparagus tips. I also made the Crème and Soubise but not the Mornay since I'd done that earlier on this blog. The Soubise with a nip of Ouzo (dusted off from a trip to Greece ages ago) was amazing. I could have eaten the Soubise all on its own. The Crème was not much different from the basic Béchamel, which is understandable. I could almost taste the macaroni in it. For dinner, I fried up some mushrooms and added the Crème sauce. Poured over chicken, it tasted amazing.

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $436.91 + $3.77 = $440.68

Butter used so far: 5 pounds, 13 tablespoons


vibi said...

Wow! Shari! All this is so informative!
I never thought there was so much to say and know about something as basic as béchamel.
Nevertheless, your pictures are amazing, especially the first double heart one, the play on light and shadow is too cute!
Great post!

Anonymous said...

amazing, shari! i love a good mornay sauce, and my mac and cheese is started with a becaemel as well! the only reason i knew what that was (or a mornay) was that was the first thing they taught my husband in culinary school. looks so good! makes me want to make some sauce!

Shari said...

Vibi and Missy - Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! I appreciate it! Next up is Bearnaise sauce, but first I have some template issues to resolve. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

That photo is incredible. The layered heart on heart on heart -- fascinating photography. And I like the finger heart on the "tablecloth" of the spoon! Cool.

Anonymous said...

everything looks incredible and amazing, as usual!

marae said...

i love how detailed all your analysis is, miss shari!!

btw, i tagged you on my blog, check it out...i want to hear more about you!!

Deborah said...

I love bechamel, but I've never had it on asparagus before. I want to try that out before the asparagus is gone!!