On its own, bechamel is bland. But the basic white sauce makes for a creamy, dreamy and versatile base for all kinds of decadent dishes, including macaroni-and-cheese and silky, luxurious soups.
Its base is roux, pronounced “roo,” which is made from equal parts flour and butter by weight. The four kinds – white, blond, brown and dark brown – depend on how long the mixture is cooked. White cooks the shortest length of time, while dark brown cooks the longest.
Make white roux by melting 1 pound butter over medium heat then whisking with 1 pound flour until a rough paste forms. Whisk constantly until it begins to thin and becomes smooth, about 5 minutes.
Adam Swedberg, executive banquet chef at the Historic Davenport Hotel, pours roux onto a baking sheet and lets it cool in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight until it’s completely hardened. Then, it’s easy to cut into pieces for future use. Roux will keep indefinitely when stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
To make bechamel, whisk in small amounts until you reach the desired consistency.
Bechamel is one of the five mother sauces, along with velouté, hollandaise, tomato, and espagnole. Organized in the early 1800s by Marie Antoine-Carene and added onto by Auguste Escoffier, they’re part of the foundation of French cooking. Many chefs have them committed to memory. Home cooks could use the techniques to add flavor and elevate entrees.
Smoked Cheddar Bechamel
From Adam Swedberg, executive banquet chef at the Historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane
4 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound smoked cheddar, grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
Blond roux, cubed (See recipe above)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bring milk and cream to a boil in a sauce pan. Add garlic for flavor. Add cheese slowly, letting it melt into cream. Stir in roux, a little at a time, until you get desired thickness. Season to taste.
Notes: For Alfredo sauce, replace smoked cheddar with Parmesan. For mornay sauce, use Gruyere. Without the cheese, this is a base for country gravy or chowder.
Stay tuned: The third installment will feature espagnole sauce.
Video: Watch executive chef Adam Swedberg make bechamel sauce online at spokesman.com.