When I began cooking for real, one of my bugbears was that my Bechamel sauces were hugely temperamental. Sometimes they’d be white, sometimes brown, sometimes smooth, sometimes lumpy and I just didn’t get what made a white sauce tick. Later, largely after reading multiple takes on the subject, I now use this method to get my white sauces right every time, without fail.
Step One: Make a Buerre-Manie
A buerre-manie is made with equal parts flour and butter. I prefer this to the roux technique as (a) this always results in bright white sauce (you have to use white butter for that) and (b) I can keep the buerre-manie in the freezer and use it later for white/bechamel sauce in a jiffy.
When your buerre-manie is made, it’ll be pasty in texture, so chill it for a bit to make it easier to work with. It’s alright if it freezes hard.
Step Two: Heat your Milk
A pan full of milk will yield about 75 – 80% white/bechamel sauce. So, measure accordingly. You could choose to add flavors at this point, like nutmeg, pepper, maybe a bay leaf or two. Bring the milk to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Remove any flavor substances you may have added, like the bay leaf etc.
Ensure you choose a heavy bottomed pan for this step as the white sauce may otherwise stick to the bottom of the pan and get scorched.
Step Three: Use that Buerre-Manie
Holding a whisk in your regular hand and the buerre-manie in the other, break off bits of the paste and drop it into the milk, while whisking away with the other. If the buerre-manie has frozen solid, either ask someone else to grate it into the pan for you or alternate between grating and whisking. The high fat content in the buerre-manie ensures it dissolves fast. Gradually, as the flour mixes into the milk and begins cooking, you’ll notice the mixture thickening. When as thick as desired, take the pan off the heat.
Go slow with the grating now and if there are no lumps, you could choose to stir instead of whisking. If it’s as thick as you want, stop, season and use.
Step Four: Serve your White/Bechamel Sauce
You can choose to mix cooked pasta into your sauce and place it under a hot grill for a Gratin, use it as a layer for your Lasagna, mix it with grated cheese (while cooking, so it dissolves = Sauce Mornay) and serve it with blanched vegetables and so on.
Do you follow similar steps? Do you do anything different? Share with us your tips and tricks in the comments below!