A white sauce is just that – a sauce that’s white. It’s white because it’s made with milk, 1/2 & 1/2, or cream.
It was years before I dared make a white sauce; I assumed it was difficult for some reason. I remember calling up my mother and asking her how to make one, but 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, just for me, and sent me the recipe. Trust me, after making a white sauce one time, you’ll never need a recipe again.
White Sauce, or Bechamel
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of 1/2 & 1/2, or cream
(this recipe can be doubled)
Have all of your ingredients ready; the sauce will not take long. All you need is a pot and whisk.
I like to use Wondra instead of regular white flour for sauces and gravies.
Place the butter in the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the flour and immediately whisk 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 slightly 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 gently whisking. Don’t add the milk gradually; pour it all in.
If the milk/cream is warm, the sauce will form sooner, but cold milk/cream works just as well.
Hold the pot now with one hand and gently whisk; you will notice the mixture thickening. You can even remove the pot from the stove if you think the sauce is cooking too fast.
A few bubbles might form, but don’t let the sauce boil. It’s better to take a little more time to whisk the sauce than allow it to burn and stick to the pot.
Once the sauce has thickened, remove the pot from the stove. You have just made a white sauce.
Now for the fun part. Think of what you can add to your white sauce to make it, well, different! What about adding fresh herbs, or pesto, or tomato paste, or paprika cream, or curry powder!
Today I’m being indulgent and treating myself to a breakfast of goddesses – poached eggs with a white sauce.
A white sauce will work with any milk substitute as well, from soymilk to coconut milk, to hemp milk, to goat milk. However, the color of the sauce will change with the milk color.
It will turn into a cheesy white sauce if you add cheddar, fontina, or Parmesan to it. Any cheese works.
Besides salt and pepper, you can also add white pepper, dried herbs, nutmeg, cayenne, or just about anything you like.
Lastly, a browned butter white sauce is really flavorful, but keep in mind that the white sauce color will be brownish.
For a more scientific approach to making a white sauce, here is a link to Stefan’s white sauce on his blog, Stefan Gourmet.
I rarely make white sauce on its’ own anymore. This is a great reminder of how good and versatile it is. :)
Interesting; I just calculated that I’ve made a white sauce over 700 times, based on making one for something about every two weeks since first beginning to follow Julia Child’s (and others’) instructions in ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. It’s never failed: cook the roux for 2 mins, boil the milk, beat into the roux off the heat, boil the sauce for 2 mins. Add whatever – salt/pepper for lasagne, cheese for a cauliflower cheese, etc. Of course I now don’t measure anything. Yet I’ve never before heard of ‘goddesses’; poached eggs are my favourite way to eat eggs so I’ll be trying this.
WOW!!! That’s a lot of white sauce! Because that book is about what she learned in France, I bet they used to boil the milk because it was raw and unpasteurized back then. Because I’m pretty sure these days any kind of heating or boiling is unnecessary. My mother is French, and we were in France often, and I remember how good that milk tasted. I sometimes sip some evaporated milk, because it reminds me of that milk. And you know what, I made up the goddess part – I just thought it funny to refer to myself as a goddess!
It’s not the reason she gives in the book and anyway boiling the sauce, as she also suggests (as you’ll know, she doesn’t suggest anything but instructs you to do it :) ) will kill off any bugs. You can still get milk straight from the cow in Romania easily (in any market), here in UK with more difficulty as it’s only allowed to be sold ‘at the farm gate’ and few farmers do it. You’re right, it’s a totally different (and more pleasurable) experience. Glad to hear someone else sips evaporated milk straight from the can. Goddess? Well certainly some of your recipes are heavenly!
I just wonder if Julia didn’t mention the reason because she might not have been aware? Or, putting the reason in the cookbook might have grossed out Americans?!! I don’t know… Thank you for the sweet compliment!
I am like your mother- little bit this and that. Thank you for recipe with amounts :) :)
You are so welcome!
Why do you like the Wondra flour more than AP flour? Will have to try it.
There is absolutely no clumping . You can basically sprinkle it in and walk away!
My mom taught me how to make a white sauce when I was in junior high school – and I am forever grateful!
Perfect. That’s very cool. My mother was an incredible cook, but couldn’t handle anyone in the kitchen. So I was exposed to many different cuisines and ingredients, but never was taught how to cook. So I’m definitely self-taught, and jumped naively into cooking when I married. The no-fear approach helped a lot, but somehow I thought making a sauce was difficult! Weird.
Like my friend used to say, it’s a gateway sauce to sawmill or sausage gravy :). Very versatile technique.
Thanks, Bill! Unfortunately, I could probably drink it…
Great post Mimi as I know so many people who are terrified of it! I also use the all in one method too.
It must be the French sauce thing, thinking all French food is haute cuisine!
I love white sauce ! this looks delicious !
French Canadians make white sauce, add chopped hard cooked eggs and pour the mixture over potatoes. It’s yummy!! I started making white sauce when I was about 11… too young to think it might not turn out well!!
When my sons were young I used to make Goldenrod Eggs for breakfast, which is a white sauce with only the chopped whites added, the sauce and egg whites are poured over toast & then you push the egg yolks through a sieve and sprinkle it over the rest.
It looks pretty. My sons loved it. (I wish I had that type of enthusiasm early in the morning now!!) ; o )
Hi Cecile! Nice to see you! These recipes are fascinating! I’ve never heard of either of them, but they both sound wonderful. White sauce and eggs are just a wonderful combination.
I think I made my first white sauce when I was 14, that’s over half a century ago. White sauce makes so many dishes taste better. I often just use regular milk to make it, of course than I have been known to add large amounts of grated cheese to it.
I’ve probably never used milk, just because I feel it’s so decadent itself, with or without cheese. But I love a white sauce made with goat milk.
I agree, white sauce is so versatile! Those poached eggs in it look delicious.
Those eggs became my lunch, after I sprinkled on a few capers. Thanks.
It took many, many years to make my own white sauce, too. For some reason I was under the impression that it was a lot of work or had to be done carefully or some such rubbish. Evey since I’ve made it – I think it was only about 3 years ago – I can’t understand why I didn’t try it sooner.
I guess it’s the French thing that scared us? Like a fancy haute cuisine sauce. I’ve actually still never made a Bearnaise. Next on the list!
Oh I haven’t made that either – you go first and I’ll see how it goes, hehe :-D
Thanks for the shout out! Your approach is very similar to mine, except that I use equal amounts of flour and butter by weight instead of by volume (which will indeed make a thicker roux, because 4 Tbsp of flour is 40 grams and 4 Tbsp of butter is 56 grams).
I guess I just like them thinner, like I mentioned in the post, but weight is a very smart way to go!
One of the easiest sauce to make and very versatile in use. Great post Mimi.
So versatile. Thank you!
The way I learned it was from Joy of Cooking . Butter, flour, stir over low heat for 7 minutes (the roux cooks in Louisiana say it takes the floury taste away), add an onion with 4 cloves stuck in it, a bay leaf, nutmeg, milk, salt and pepper. Let that cook until the flavor from the herbs is imparted on the (bland) flour/butter mixture. Afterward feel free to add other ingredients, always aware that the French have a name for your “new” creation :-)
I remember Paul Prudhomme, who was from Louisiana, and he cooked the roux that way. I’ve never tried it.
Is there a celiac friendly substitute for the flour (that will not change the texture or flavor?
I only know of one that a famous French chef came up with, and Williams-Sonoma sells it. C for C? As in, cup for cup? I’ll go check. That may not be the name at all.
I never thought about measuring the butter and flour – just eyeballed it! Then kept adding milk till it looked right! And don’t forget about the good glug of wine or brandy or whatever takes your fancy for what you are going to pour the sauce over or in.
I’m a self taught cook and didn’t think a white sauce would be difficult!! Maybe I’ve been lucky.
I’ve always done that, too. But wouldn’t help people out reading the blog post who’d never done it!
That’s why it’s good to have lovely people like you to help us. Wish I’d had you around when I first needed the recipe for white sauce!!!
Such a versatile sauce to learn how to make… a must for any good home cook! I have my ratios too… which makes it easy to make up any size quantity at the drop of a hat. Drizzled over poached eggs sounds like a wonderful way to start the day! :)
Thank you! The eggs were fabulous!
our mum taught my sister and me to make white sauce when we were quite small. i have never forgotten how nor been afraid to make it. it is such a forgiving sauce really. and i’ve only ever used cold milk out of the fridge. it always works! delia smith the english cook makes her by chucking everything into the saucepan and letting it cook into a sauce. so simple. cheers sherry
It’s another good example of not being fearful of cooking. That’s how we make out Thanksgiving gravies here in the U>S> – just add the flour after the liquid has reduced. I think it was the French sauce thing that made me think that it was challenging. Plus, I never came across a recipe for it in a cookbook, and there was no internet when I asked for my mother’s help, and she’s French! I perhaps should have known better!
I love all kinds of sauces and of course a white sauce is one of them. I use Wondra flour too and even use it in crepes (Julia Child recommendation).
Oh interesting! I never knew about that. Thanks!
Thanks for your post, Mimi. And your eggs look like heaven! I use a white sauce to make spinach lasagna, and I also use one as the base for a creamy mac’n’cheese. What’s Wondra?
It’s white flour, but feels like dust. You probably don’t even have to whisk it. I use it with all of my Thanksgiving gravies.
My mum taught me when I was little how to make a white sauce. I’m not sure I could write it down because everything is just eyeballed. Like your mum mine was a very intuitive cook and gaged by thickness and consistency. It’s a great skill to have and a wonderful recipe to have in your back pocket.
That’s the problem! Well, only if someone wants your recipe that you eyeball. I’ve never used a recipe for pancake batter or muffins, either, and I’m sure you’re the same way.
I totally know what you mean about being intimidated to make a while sauce. I have no idea why as it’s pretty straightforward…and it just so happens to be one of my favorite sauces! Thanks for the reminder to make it sometime soon. I love pasta with white sauce…or pizza with white sauce as the base! :-)
It’s so yummy and so versatile! White pizzas are incredible.
Ah! A perfect white sauce. Add cheese and you’ve got a mornay sauce. GREG
Or, a cheesy white sauce!
Why is it that any sauce makes one think they are so difficult? White sauce is so basic and so good!
I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because it’s a French sauce?!! Not really sure.
Now i’m craving biscuits and gravy! Your white sauce looks divine! I have never used wondra flour. I will give it a try
Thanks Angela. It’s not necessary but it works like magic.
I think people make white sauce all the time and just never realize it…because they’re just following recipes and it’s never called “white sauce”. Your pics are lovely, even of the lowly white sauce.
Thank you. You could be right… maybe that’s why I never found a white sauce recipe years ago…
Just as easy as making gravy. My mom made white sauce with peas when I was growing up. I haven’t thought about it for a long time. Thanks for reminder, Mimi!
Mine served it with eggs, as I did for the post, but also with salt cod. That was exceptional.