White sauce, also commonly referred to as béchamel, is a thick and creamy sauce made with butter, flour and milk. It is often poured over freshly cooked pasta, oven-roasted chicken, fish or roasted vegetables. Moreover, it is an integral component of a lasagna recipe. You can find the sauce in between the layers.
White sauce is one of those basic sauces everyone should master. Just like hollandaise sauce, béarnaise sauce or marie rose sauce. In fact, it's considered the mother of all sauces in French cuisine.
It comes in many forms and consistencies depending on the amount of ingredients and how long you cook it for. However, there is such a thing as the perfect sauce. First it needs to have the right level of thickness (not too pasty, or too runny – like milk). In addition, a perfect version shouldn't contain any lumps.
This recipe will show you exactly how to make a flawless white sauce of which you can be proud. Enjoy learning the art of sauce-making!
white sauce recipe
White sauce was originally invented in Italy (more specifically Tuscany) during the Renaissance era. Back then, it was known as salsa colla or colletta, which translates as glue sauce. Today in Italy, it's known as balsamella and besciamella.
Believe it or not, the sauce was brought to France by an Italian chef called Catherina de Medici in the 16th century and was originally served as a veloute (with lots of cream).
how to make white sauce
There are a couple of handy kitchen tools and gadgets you'll need to make this sauce – and others for that matter. For instance, you'll need:
- ceramic jug - so that you can serve your white sauce in an elegant manner
- large silicone whisk - this will come in handy for other recipes too
- silicone spatula - this tool is more convenient than a wooden spatula
- cheese grater - in case you feel like adding cheese into this recipe
white sauce ingredients
The key to this sauce is getting the proportions of the ingredients right. Ultimately, a béchamel sauce is made with only three ingredients. These are milk, butter and flour. Did you know that when you combine butter and flour, it's called white roux?
However, you can add other ingredients to the sauce to flavour or enhance it.
how to add maximum flavour
If you would like to add as much flavour as possible to the sauce, you can infuse the milk first with spices.
For example, you can add:
- bay leaf or kaffir lime leaves - for an extra herbal kick
- oregano, basil, marjoram - for more Mediterranean flavours
- onions or shallots - for a subtle tart flavour in the white sauce
- parsley, celery, coriander - if you'd like an even more fragrant sauce
- black, green or white pepper - for some sharpness
- nutmeg - a popular addition in many French versions
- cheese - works with any type of cheese
how to prevent a lumpy sauce
Silky smooth béchamel or white sauce is what you want. First of all, follow the instructions closely as the proportions of the butter to milk determines your batch of sauce.
Tip: When you cook the white roux (butter and flour), make sure you whisk as much as possible. Also, make sure you reach all corners of the pan. This prevents the paste from scorching. If you are wondering why one cooks the white roux, it is basically to cook the raw aroma of the flour out of the white sauce.
Tip: Don't use too high a heat when you cook the white roux, as the butter will brown. Add small chunks of butter in the various corners of the pan. This redistributes the heat and will allow the flour to cook evenly. Above all, the butter will coat and attach to the flour, hence preventing any future lumps when you add the milk.
Tip: Once you add the milk, pour it in slowly. Not all at once. While you pour small amounts, whisk away. This is absolutely essential for a silky smooth sauce. It will allow the milk to bind nicely with the cooked white roux and also prevent any lumps. Plus, it's easier to control the consistency of the sauce.
Don't worry about the white sauce looking a bit too runny when you add the milk. Once you bring it to a simmer, it should thicken up nicely.
white sauce with cheese
Some versions of the béchamel or white sauce call for the addition of cheese. Especially, those served in France. In fact, if you decide to add cheese into the sauce, it becomes a whole different sauce called Mornay sauce.
Generally, you can use all sorts of cheese for this white sauce recipe. For instance:
- Monterey Jack or these Monterey Jack substitutes
- Fontina cheese or these Fontina cheese substitutes
- Parmesan, Grana Padano or Pecorino
- Comte, Gruyere or any other hard cheese
- you can even add blue cheese and turn the white sauce into blue cheese sauce
Next, you can use the béchamel with cheese in the following recipes:
- savoury French toast - serve on top
- avocado mac and cheese
- lasagna or moussaka (especially when your white sauce turned out thicker)
- croque monsieur
- creamy pecorino and lemon pasta
white sauce for chicken
First of all, the white sauce goes nicely with a bowl of fresh penne or homemade fusilli pasta. However, it is also used as an excellent sauce over white meat like chicken.
The best option would be to serve the sauce over sous vide chicken breasts or brined chicken breasts.
Here's some food for thought. If you infuse green peppercorns into the milk for your white sauce, it will resemble my chicken breast with creamy green peppercorn sauce recipe.
how to make white sauce without flour
Instead of flour, you can use roughly half of cornstarch as flour. Otherwise, if you'd like a gluten-free sauce, use the same proportions with gluten-free universal flour.
How would you make your white sauce? With what would you serve it? Let me know in the comments below.Print
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
Discover the secret to making the perfect white sauce, known as béchamel sauce, balsamell or besciamella.
- 60g (2oz) butter
- 60g (2oz) flour
- 600ml (1pt) milk
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan.
- Add the flour and stir continuously until a roux (paste) forms. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes.
- Gradually pour in the milk while stirring vigorously, until you get a smooth sauce.
- Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, continuously stirring until the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency.
- Season to taste and serve with greens.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Sauce
- Method: Boil
- Cuisine: French
Keywords: white sauce recipe, how to make white sauce, white sauce for pasta
Yikes! You cut every corner known.
Firstly, the roux. You need almost too much flour for the butter. If you have oil stil visible, a tad more flour. It should be almost solid. Then, keep shifting it around the pan, until it's starting to colour lightly brown, cooking to a very light roast without being allowed to stick and burn.
Then, and only then, add a dessert spoonful of milk. It'll boil immediately, binding into the roux. Roux, in passing, is a reddish-brown colour in French. That's several shades closer to black-is-burned! With a first spoonful taken up, keep moving the roux to absorb any milk protein on the pan, beating haed and quickly, and add a second small splash. The texture will start to change, and it's now you really work the sauce, stretching it with your wooden spoon so it becomes an even elastic, adding slightly more milk each time, but never until the last lot is stretched in. The texture will slacken, and that is the moment to work out any inconsistency in texture. Now you have decisions to make, adding grated cheese, and seasoning before adding herbs, if any. If using spices, it is even more critical to cook their harsh aromatics out in oil, and I'd do that in the butter even before the flour. Finally, stretch it to the degree sought: if working with meat, even use the juices to make a really white gravy. Or in a sauce for vegetables gratin, par-cook the veg and use the water as stock. Because it'll reduce in the oven, you might take the sauce almost to liquid.
Oh, and finally, Catherine de Medicis. A Queen of France of a particularly nasty disposition, she did bring quite a lot of Florentine recipes with her retinue. If she ever did take to the kitchen, though, it was more likely to keep her skills as a poisoner sharp.
I love how quick and easy this is, it comes out so creamy also!