Bechamel sauce is creamy white sauce made of equal parts of butter and flour known as roux and milk. It is one of the classic mother sauces in French cuisine.
This silky, smooth white sauce is used in many pastas or dishes giving it flavor. Bechamel sauce is easy to make but will require constant whisking to achieve a smooth sauce.
It is best prepared on the day you are making the dish but refrigerating it for a day is fine.
In my late teens, my friend’s cousin made delicious lasagna and mac n cheese with some rich creamy sauce and I was hooked. Most people asked her for the recipe but never shared it, so I never bothered to ask.
When I like something, I ask for the recipe so my mom can make it. During those days, you will not find me in the kitchen.
Anyway, I discovered bechamel sauce when I had Pastitio (Greek Lasagna) with my Greek friends. I knew then that was her secret sauce.
How to Make Bechamel Sauce
(1) Prepare the ingredients.
Prepare butter, flour, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Nutmeg is optional but adds a subtle flavor. Beaten egg or egg yolk is added to give it a yellowish color but this is optional too. Cheese is also added if a recipe calls for it.
(2) Use a heavy bottomed pot
Using a heavy bottomed pot will ensure that ingredients doesn’t easily burn. A combination of butter and flour can quickly burn. A Dutch oven or any heavy bottomed pot will do. Make sure it is big enough for easy stirring.
(3) Make the roux
Heat a medium or large pot over medium heat. Melt butter but do not brown, then add flour and start whisking with a wooden spoon until well blended. This is a quick process and it will form clumps.
(4) Add milk
First, turn your heat to the lowest temperature and slowly add milk while constantly whisking or stirring. It is easier if you add a cup of milk first, whisking vigorously until well blended then slowly add the remaining milk and continue whisking.
Some people warm the milk separately before adding to mixture, while others turn off the heat and slowly add the milk until well combined with butter and flour mixture, then heat is turned back on.
Experiment which works well for you.
Note: Making bechamel roux in no different than gumbo roux except that bechamel is white or yellowish while gumbo roux is cooked longer until brown in color.
(5) Continue stirring until roux is thickened
The key to a smooth bechamel sauce is constantly whisking or stirring until slightly thickened. It should be pourable and it will thickened more once it cools down.
Note: Once it starts to thicken, stir faster to prevent it from forming clumps and not sticking at the bottom of pot.
If you want your sauce to be thin, remove from heat while it is pourable or cook it longer for a thicker sauce. Also, reduce butter and flour for a thinner roux.
(6) Add to your favorite dishes
After cooking, you can pour it over a mesh or cheese cloth for a smoother sauce before serving. I don’t do this step.
(7) Add beaten egg or egg yolk or cheese
To make bechamel sauce yellowish, add beaten egg or egg yolk and to make bechamel cheese sauce, add 1 cup of Parmesan Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
These ingredients are added once heat is turned off. Stir vigorously while adding these ingredients.
How Long Does Bechamel Sauce Cooks
It is hard to give an exact cooking time. It will differ depending on the element, type of pot and size used.
I cooked mine in a large Dutch oven and it took me 20 to 25 minutes over medium heat in an electric stove. Also, I increased my bechamel sauce to 1 1/2.
I’m sure cooking time will be different from yours.
Can You Make Bechamel Sauce Ahead of Time
You can make bechamel a day ahead. Let it cool and transfer to a glass container with saran wrap plastic touching the sauce so it doesn’t form a skin and refrigerate. Warm it in the microwave but much better in a sauce pan. Whisk and add a little bit of milk to loosen sauce.
Can You Freeze Bechamel Sauce?
Yes, I usually have it in a glass container, well sealed for about 3 months. Thaw in the fridge and warm on the stove with a little bit of milk and constantly whisking. Sauce is not as smooth at this point.
Would You Like to Try Pasta with Bechamel or White Sauce?
How to Make Bechamel Sauce
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 4 cups milk
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg optional
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt butter in a heavy bottomed pot over medium to low heat. Do not brown butter.
- Add flour and whisk mixture together for about 2 minutes.
- Reduce heat to low and pour about a cup of milk and whisk constantly until well combined with mixture.
- Slowly pour remaining milk, whisking constantly.
- Stir-in nutmeg.
- Once mixture starts to bubble, whisk vigorously for a smoother sauce. Sauce should be medium thick but pourable. It becomes thicker once it cools.
- Season with salt and pepper
- Remove from stove.
- For yellowish bechamel sauce, whisk vigorously and add beaten egg or egg yolk after turning off heat.
- For Bechamel Cheese Sauce, stir and add 1 cup of grated Parmesan Parmigiano cheese after turning off heat.