What is white sauce?
White sauce is traditionally made by thickening milk with a white roux (a paste of flour and butter). Also known as bechamel, white sauce is one of the five Mother Sauces of French cuisine and features in many everyday dishes. Although often flavoured with bay and nutmeg, bechamel can also be used as a base to make cheese sauce and mushroom sauce.
How to make white sauce
Once you get a hang of white sauce, you soon won’t need to rely on a recipe to make it. You’re simply going to start by melting butter and stirring in an equal amount of flour to form a thick paste. The paste needs to be cooked out for a minute to develop some flavour, after which warmed milk is whisked in gradually to reach your desired consistency. Finish it all off with your flavouring of choice, et voila!
Make sure to whisk in the milk gradually to prevent lumps from forming. If your sauce becomes lumpy, whisk vigorously until it becomes smooth again, and pass through a sieve to get rid of any residual bits. Using warmed milk also helps to prevent lumps.
MAKES about 2 1/3 cups
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk, warmed
- Whole or ground nutmeg, to taste
MELT butter over medium heat, then stir in cake flour to form a thick paste. Cook the roux, stirring, for 1 minute.
WHISK in warmed milk gradually to form a smooth sauce.
COOK the sauce for a few minutes, whisking, until it boils and thickens, and the taste of the flour has been cooked out.
SEASON with salt, pepper and a touch of nutmeg.
TIP: Add more flavour to your sauce by infusing your milk. To do so, warm milk and add a bay leaf, peppercorns, a halved shallot and flat-leaf parsley; cover and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes. Strain before proceeding with recipe.
White sauce variations
CHEESE SAUCE: Mix in a handful of grated cheddar or mozzarella into your prepared white sauce until completely melted.
MUSTARD SAUCE: Mix 1 tsp dry mustard powder into the flour when creating your roux. This variation is also delicious as a base for cheese sauce.
HERB SAUCE: Add in finely chopped herbs like chives, dill, watercress, basil, thyme or parsley into your sauce.
VELOUTE SAUCE: Use stock instead of milk; we recommend chicken or veggie stock.
MUSHROOM SAUCE: Cook a diced shallot, minced garlic, thyme and sliced mushrooms until softened. Add butter and melt, then add flour to form a paste. Gradually mix in milk to form a sauce; season.