Béchamel sauce is a classic French sauce. It’s called one of the Mother Sauces because it’s so basic and because it’s a starting place for so many things.
Don’t get scared off by the fact that it’s French and “classic” though. One of the interesting thing about French cooking is that it’s all about simple things, at least to start. I’m even betting that you’ve probably made béchamel before without knowing it.
It’s a very simple white sauce that only has three required ingredients: Butter, flour and milk. Salt, black pepper or white pepper and/or nutmeg are often added to the sauce as well. It’s completely white in color. It can be thick or thin depending on the ratio of butter, flour and milk used (more on the ratio later).
If ever you’ve made homemade macaroni and cheese, you’ve probably made a béchamel. Actually, béchamel is the beginning of so many dishes that you’ve possibly made it tons of times.
Béchamel consists of butter, flour and milk. It’s the method of combining them that makes them into a sauce though.
The thing that adds thickness to a béchamel is the flour. More flour leads to a thicker sauce, less flour to a thinner sauce. The butter is in the sauce as a way to help disperse the flour without creating lumps. It also adds richness to the sauce.
You almost always use equal amounts of butter and flour in a béchamel. These ingredients are whisked into a paste, cooked and then milk is slowly whisked in. How much of each do you use?
If you’re making a béchamel as a simple sauce (thickened but definitely pourable), the most basic ratio is 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of butter to 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of flour for each cup of milk.
If you’re making a cheese sauce, like for a Mornay sauce or for Mac ‘n’ Cheese, the cheese is going to act as an extra thickener so the sauce itself can start out thinner. Go with 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour per cup of milk.
If you want a really thick sauce, like for the start of a soufflé, for Moussaka and sometimes for lasagna (I don’t make my lasagna béchamel this thick but some people do), you can go with as much as 3 tablespoons of butter and flour for each cup of milk.
I find it better to err on the side of making a too-thick sauce because you can always thin it with more milk to get the desired consistency. If you instead start with a lower amount of butter and flour and then discover that your resulting sauce is too thin, it’s harder to thicken it. If that happens you need to start over and make an extra-thick sauce and then add your too-thin sauce to it. Whisk them together and you’ll get a sauce halfway between the two.
If you’re not using the sauce immediately, you can keep it to use later in one of two ways.
First, let it cool to room temperature. Stir the sauce. Then…
Refrigerate béchamel: Take a piece of plastic wrap and push it onto the surface of the sauce. This prevents a skin from forming. Refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat slowly on the stove, stirring often. Or reheat it in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each interval.
Freeze béchamel: Transfer it to a freezer container. Make sure the container is well-sealed. Freeze for up to 1 month. Let it defrost overnight in the fridge. Reheat slowly on the stove while stirring continuously. Note that this sauce can separate from freezing. Stirring constantly as it heats helps it to stay together. However, if you have frozen béchamel and you want to use up, you’re best to plan for it to be mixed into dishes (where the potential separation will be less noticeable) than in a dish where the sauce is meant to be noticeable and look pretty.
That’s all my béchamel tips and info. If you have any questions, ask them in the comment section below. I check that often so I will definitely get back to you. The printable basic béchamel recipe is below. Have a great day!