Béchamel is the classic French sauce named after the chief steward of Louis XIV, the Marquis de Béchamel. It is first recorded in Le Cuisinier François, a cornerstone publication of French cuisine, published in 1651. The sauce was originally a thickened veal base with a large amount of added cream. Today we use the recipe of Auguste Escoffier, a roux of flour and butter with added seasoned, flavoured milk. Béchamel is a very important base for a variety of sauces and is used extensively in classic French and Italian cooking.
Béchamel is traditionally made by melting butter and adding an equal part of flour in order to make a roux, which is gently cooked in a heavy bottomed pan, taking care not to burn or colour. Then scalded or heated milk is gradually whisked in, and the sauce is cooked until thickened and smooth. Traditionally this was done over a very low heat, the surface of the sauce covered with a cartouche to stop a skin forming for two or more hours.
The proportion of roux and milk determines the thickness of the sauce, typically one to three tablespoons each of flour and butter per cup of milk. One tablespoon each of butter and flour per cup of milk would result in a thin, easily pourable sauce. Two tablespoons of each would result in a medium thick sauce. Three tablespoons of each would be used for an extra thick sauce such as used to fill croquettes or as a soufflé base. The milk is often heated with a clouté for extra flavour. The Italians often finish their Béchamel with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
As I am updating my website and blog I am trying to convert everything to metric but for sentimental reasons cooking with my mum I remember glass pints of milk and making a pint of Béchamel. For convenience I have put the metric near equivalent after.
For 1 Pint of Béchamel
2 oz (50 gr) Plain Flour
2 oz (50 gr) Butter
1 Pint (500 ml) full fat Milk
1 small White Onion, peeled
1 Whole Bay Leaf
Sea salt and freshly ground White Pepper
A pinch of freshly grated Nutmeg
In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan heat the milk with the clouté until it comes to the boil, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. In a second pan, melt the butter over a moderate heat then stir in the flour. Mix together and cook until the mix binds together for a couple of minutes without any colouring, again allow to cool slightly. Whisk the roux and milk together, add back the clouté and bring to a very gentle simmer. Cover with a cartouche and cook for at least thirty minutes on the lowest of settings. Strain through a chinois or fine sieve and season with the salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Allergens in this recipe are;
Béchamel is used a base for the following sauce variations, there are many others, the recipes are for a pint ( 500 ml ) of Béchamel base;
Mornay add 80 gr of grated Cheddar or a mix of Cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses and a large pinch of powdered English mustard, heat gently but do not boil. Use for making Cauliflower Cheese, with fish, shellfish, and roast gammon ham.
Nantua add 50 gr of freshly cooked, peeled Crayfish tails, 30 gr Shellfish butter, and 50 ml Double Cream, heat gently stirring until all the butter is incorporated. A classic sauce for fish.
Crème heat the Béchamel and 250 ml thick Double Cream with a good squeeze of fresh Lemon Juice. The classic accompaniment to poached asparagus.
Mustard heat the Béchamel with 1 tablespoon of prepared Dijon mustard, serve with lamb.
Soubise sauté 100 gr of finely sliced onions in butter then blitz in a food processor with the Béchamel and pass through a sieve, heat and serve. This is traditionally served with mutton but is great with beef and lamb dishes.
Parsley finish with the addition of 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, delicious with baked white fish and gammon.