White Sauce

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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!!!

You can use the white sauce in lasagna, moussaka, pastitisio, with pasta, or as a queso base. It’s also fabulous with salt cod, potatoes, onions and capers.

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.)

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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.

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A white sauce will work with any milk substitute as well, from soymilk to coconut milk, to hemp milk.

35 thoughts on “White Sauce

  1. One of the most versatile of the classic French sauces. I love it with a cauliflower gratin.
    Does the goat milk not make it taste different? I only had goat milk once and did not like the taste at all.

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  2. I never use a recipe for white sauce either – I always eye more or less how much I want and adjust as I go. Must say, never thought about having eggs with a white sauce.
    Have a beautiful day Mimi.
    :-) Mandy xo

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  3. Seriously, this is one of the first sauces I learned in junior high school so that I could make creamed salmon and peas for my family while my mother was in the hospital. It is the base of so many good dishes – and I love that you used goat’s milk!

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    • Thank you! And how sweet and considerate of you as a youngster. For the sake of the blog, I should have just used cream, but I have this inherent no-waste habit. I saw the goat’s milk in a tupperware, and just absentmindedly used it. Only afterwards did I think about the color difference! But the flavor is wonderful.

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      • I will have to try it that way! Now that goat’s milk is available at the market, nothing is holding me back! I bet the flavor was amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love white sauce but only made it 4 years ago for the first time. I really don’t know why, I guess I thought it was tricky or too much work. Ever since, though, I’ve loved making it, especially as once you’ve made your own you never want to have shop-bought white sauce again…

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    • It just had some depth to it – not strong like a goat cheese. It’s just a fun option! What I love is the things that can be added to a white sauce to make it something completely different! Plain is good, too!

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  5. Bechamel sauce is the first sauce I’ve ever made! I remember my mum in the kitchen preparing it for Sunday’s lasagna, and a little me watching religiously every step. It took me a while to get a nice smooth sauce, but after that, it was Bechamel central! :) In Italy we have it ready in cartons, handy choice if you are in a hurry (or lazy), but otherwise do your own!

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  6. I make my own yogurt from goats milk and love the nutty taste. I also use goats cheese in lots of things, wherever cream cheese is called for. Goat’s milk has a better fat profile than cow’s milk, so I use it whenever I can.

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  7. A white sauce is a staple in my house. When my son was off to Uni it was one of the things I taught him. I just showed him where the milk should come in the saucepan so he never need measure! I use the all in one method, and in the UK I would use powdered milk too. It’s great that you’ve done this on the blog because it can be used for so many things. :)

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  8. I think it’s great that you post beginner recipes occasionally for those just starting out cooking. It’s so easy to forget that others may have not learned a technique or recipe that we learned years ago. I am sure your egg was quite tasty with the sauce even without the capers!

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    • I thought you were going to say that it was funny that i said a white sauce is a white sauce, unless it’s tan! Hopefully people who need a little boost in the kitchen read my blog. I used to spend a lot of time trying to get people in the kitchen, so I’m glad you appreciated the white sauce post. I am self-taught, and I pretty much remember everything I didn’t know, and things that intimidated me!

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  9. Great post, Mimi. I’ve never made a bechamel with cream and had never even heard of that. Must be very creamy comfort food. Agree with your advice to keep whisking to prevent lumps as it cools.
    I have a tip to make the preparation even easier: if you heat the milk first, you can add it all at once and there won’t be any lumps. I actually find it easier to prevent lumps that way compared to adding the milk slowly.

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    • Heating the milk doesn’t make it easier, but it does speed up the process a bit. In the old days I think they used to scald the milk first, but perhaps because it was unpasteurized. I pour my milk in all at once as well – I actually think it’s wrong to add gradually. As the sauce thickens it’s harder to add more liquid to the thickened sauce, which is why I’ve never had to deal with lumps. But I do continue to whisk the sauce after it’s made up until the point I use it. Lumps can form, as well as a skin.

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