Béchamel Sauce

This is such an essential ingredient in many dishes, yet people are often scared to make it in case it goes wrong.  Here’s the thing: Yes, it can go wrong and, until you’ve done it a few times, is likely to go wrong on you on a number of occasions (it certainly did for me!), but it’s through those times when it goes wrong that you learn how to correct it and what mistakes not to repeat.

I will create a video recipe for this asap, but in the meantime wanted to post the basic recipe as I am using it in my Indulgent Fish Pie.

For enough Béchamel for a Fish Pie for 6 people, you will need: 

  • 30g butter
  • 750ml semi-skimmed milk (for a richer, less health-conscious and more indulgent sauce, you can use a mixture of milk and single or even double cream, or use whole milk instead of semi-skimmed)
  • 4tbsp plain white flour
  • salt to taste
  • (with the exception of Béchamel for Fish Pie, I usually also add a little bit of freshly-grated nutmeg)
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour & mix well over a low heat so you end up with a roux (a soft dough-like ball of flour & butter).
  2. Take off the heat and add a tiny bit of milk (traditionalists would say to always pre-heat the milk, though I’ve found that it works equally well with cold milk), mix this into the roux and only add a bit more milk at a time once the previous milk has been fully amalgamated into the roux.
  3. Gradually as you keep doing this, you will find that the roux starts to become more of a paste and then gradually begin to resemble a sauce.
  4. If you’re using cold milk, return the pan to a very low heat as soon as the roux becomes more of a paste, but ensure you stir continuously, even while adding more milk.  This is the key – do not stop stirring!
  5. (Tip: If the sauce goes lumpy at this stage, stop adding milk and keep stirring over a low heat until it has thickened to a homogenous paste again, then start adding milk a tiny bit at a time again.)
  6. As soon as the mix is thin and ‘sauce-like’ enough to do so, start using a whisk instead of a wooden spoon/spatula to stir, as this will reduce the chances of lumps, but make sure you stir continuously and that you’re not whisking/beating the sauce but rather using the whisk in controlled movements, ensuring you constantly move the entire saucepan contents, especially paying attention to the base, so that no sauce has a chance to thicken up more at the bottom, thus forming lumps.
  7. Once you have added all the milk, keep stirring continuously and, as the mixture heats up, you will find it starts to thicken. 
  8. Add salt to taste, and nutmeg (unless you’re using the Béchamel for a fish pie)

These quantities will give you a rich, velvety Béchamel that is quite thick.  For thinner Béchamel, use less flour & butter (or more milk if you need more sauce), for thicker Béchamel, use more flour & butter.

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