A white sauce is just that – a sauce that’s white. It’s white because it’s typically made with milk, 1/2 and 1/2, or cream, and is very easy to make. It is also called a bechamel.
If you are wondering why my white sauce in the above photo really isn’t really white, it’s because I used goat’s milk that I had leftover. It may be “tan,” but it’s still a white sauce in my book!
It was years before I dared make a white sauce. I remember calling up my mother and asking her how to make one. She didn’t have an immediate answer, because cooking came so naturally to her. She simply added a little of this, and a little of that while cooking, and only followed recipes when making something completely new.
But she made a white sauce, wrote down the amounts, and sent me the recipe. But trust me, after making a white sauce once, you never need a recipe again.
White Sauce, or Bechamel
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 2/3 cup milk, 1/2 & 1/2, or cream
(this recipe can be doubled)
optional seasoning: salt, pepper, white pepper, Italian herbs, chicken broth powder, nutmeg, cayenne, etc…
Have a whisk in a pot on the stove, and all of your ingredients ready; the sauce will not take long.
Place the butter in the pot and heat over medium heat. You can choose to melt the butter over low heat, or brown the butter before continuing with the sauce. Add the flour and immediately begin whisking it into the butter until smooth. This is called a roux. Some people make a roux that is almost like a paste, but I prefer mine thinner.
Let the mixture bubble and cook for about 30 seconds, whisking often. The cooking supposedly keeps the sauce from having a “floury” taste, but I’ve never tested this theory. With the whisk in one hand, pour in the milk with the other and begin whisking. Since my right hand was holding the camera, this procedure isn’t photographed, but it also goes to show you how “un-fiddly” making a white sauce really is.
Hold the pot now and whisk and whisk; you will notice the mixture thickening. You can even remove the pot from the stove if you think the sauce is cooking too much.
You can let a few bubbles form, but don’t let it come to a boil. Keep the heat on medium. It’s better to take a little more time to whisk the sauce than allow it to burn.
Once the sauce has thickened, remove the pot from the stove. You have just made a white sauce.
Whisk the sauce occasionally until the point you actually use it in a recipe, to prevent lumps or a skin forming. If it thickens slightly, add a bit more milk and re-whisk.
Now for the fun part. Think of what you can add to your white sauce to make it, well, different! I’ve listed possible seasonings above, but what about fresh herbs, or pesto, or tomato paste, or paprika cream, or curry powder, or simply cheese! Get creative!!!
Today I’m being indulgent and treating myself to poached eggs with a white sauce and capers. (Except that I forgot to add the capers.)
Regarding the color of my “tan” white sauce, if you let the butter brown, the sauce won’t be white either. Neither will it be if you use goats’ milk, like I did, or evaporated milk. So you have choices to make if you definitely want a “snow white” sauce, or don’t care.
A white sauce will work with any milk substitute as well, from soymilk to coconut milk, to hemp milk.