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White Sauce (Bechamel)

White sauce in a white jug with a white dish in the background with butter pats in it.

I think its worthwhile learning to make a Bechamel white sauce and Master the Roux Technique. It’s easy when you know the rules, and its something you can use again and again.

Every cook should know how to make a white sauce or bechamel sauce. This versatile sauce is the base for many other sauces, such as cheese, herb, and mustard sauces. It all starts with making a roux, a simple but essential technique that is the foundation of three of the five mother sauces in French cuisine.

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What is a Roux?

A roux is a mixture of flour and fat (usually butter) that is used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups. It is made by cooking the flour and fat together over low to medium heat until the mixture becomes smooth and then cooking it for a few minutes longer to remove the raw taste of the flour.

Roux comes in different colours depending on how long it is cooked. A white or blonde roux is cooked for a short time, while a brown roux is cooked for longer, resulting in a deeper colour and a nuttier flavour. The dark roux is cooked for even longer and has a very deep, almost chocolate-like colour and a more nutty flavour. A roux provides both thickness and flavour.

What is the difference between a White sauce and a Bechamel sauce?

There is no real difference between a white sauce and a béchamel sauce – they are actually the same thing! Both terms refer to a classic French sauce made from a roux (a mixture of butter and flour) and milk. The sauce is usually seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and can be used as a base for other sauces or in various dishes.

The term “white sauce” is a more general term that is sometimes used to refer to any white-coloured sauce, while “béchamel sauce” specifically refers to the white sauce made from a roux and milk. However, the two terms are often used interchangeably. In most cases, they refer to the same sauce.

What could go wrong?

Making a roux can result in a lumpy mess without the right tips. But once you master it, you’ll have another important skill in your culinary arsenal. Making a white sauce on a stovetop can be troublesome, but it’s easy with a Thermomix or similar device. With a TM6 that has mode buttons, it’s even easier.

White sauce is an indispensable ingredient in many popular dishes, such as lasagna, tuna mornay, and moussaka. Learning to make it will give you the confidence to cook without a recipe and create various delicious dishes.

White sauce Ingredients:

  • Milk – Full cream, please, don’t mess about.??? 🤣🤣🤣 When making this on the stovetop, the milk should be warm when added to the hot roux to prevent lumps.
  • Butter – unsalted (melted); or any fat, but usually butter. You start the process off by melting the butter, but be warned, do not add your flour while it’s still boiling on the stovetop, or you’ll run the risk of a lumpy white sauce.
  • Plain flour – This is best for a roux and needs to be cooked out once added to the butter, so it doesn’t taste floury. 😊
  • Salt and pepper – to taste. These are added to taste. For example, if I added blue cheese to my white sauce, I’d use less salt and probably not bother with the pepper. Whatever suits your recipe and taste buds.

Making a Roux Stovetop Method:

  1. Gently bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan. Remove it and set it aside but keep it warm. 

Start making the roux 

  1. Melt the butter; once melted, remove from the heat, add in the plain flour and stir continuously until paste forms – this is called a roux. Place this back on low heat and continue to cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly.  
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add the warm milk to the roux stirring as you go, until you get a smooth sauce. Pop the pan on and off the heat as you do this to prevent lumps. Once all the milk is in, cook for 5-10 mins, stirring continuously until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste.

Making a Roux Thermomix Method:

  1. Place butter into the mixing bowl and melt 3 min/100°C/speed 1.
  2. Add flour and cook 3 min/100°C/speed 1.
  3. Add milk, salt, and pepper and cook 6 min/90°C/speed 3.5.

Making a Roux in a Thermomix TM6:

Weigh all your ingredients into the TM bowl, yes, all at once but cut your butter into small cubes, then open your modes screen and click Thicken and set 100°C. Ta Da!

What can you add to the white sauce to make it special?

First, I will explain the very french way of making a brilliant white sauce with traditional flavours.

Traditional French Bechamel

It’s easy when you know how to infuse the milk with the following. 

  • ½ onion (left whole)
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 500g full cream milk

Conventional Method: Cut the onion in half but keep it whole.  Hold the bay leaf on the onion and stud it with the cloves to hold it in place. Now sit the onion in the warm milk and allow it to infuse for 15 – 20 minutes.  Strain this flavoured milk and warm it through again before adding to the roux.

Thermomix Method: Cut the half onion into 2 portions and place all the ingredients in the bowl at once. Setting the TM to cook for 15 minutes/90°C/reverse speed + 2. At the end of cooking, strain the mix to remove any bits.

Onion Cloute Onion studded with a bay leaf and cloves.
The French term for the above is Onion Cloute

Variations to bechamel sauce

For a mustard sauce

  • Add a tablespoon of dijon or seeded mustard.  Stir through. 

Parsley sauce

  • Infuse some parsley stalks in the milk, strain, and then add around a tablespoon of chopped parsley leaves to the sauce.  Stir through.

FAQ:

What should a white sauce look like?

A bechamel sauce should be smooth and velvety, just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Unless, of course, you’re going for something else, like a cheesy sauce, although it can be the cheese that thickens it rather than the flour in this case.

Why are my white sauces always lumpy?

The trick is to take the melted butter off the heat when adding the flour and quickly stir the flour to make a paste.  If you have the butter boiling and add the flour, what happens is you cook the flour off in lumps, and they are hard to break up.

Is there anything I can do if my white sauce has gone lumpy?

The only thing I know of is to grab a stick blender and blitz it.  You could also use a Thermomix or similar, but if you’ve got one of those, you’ve probably followed the instructions for the machine, and you shouldn’t have lumps.

What dishes call for a Bechamel (white sauce)?

What’s the easiest way to make a white sauce?

A Thermomix is made for this sort of thing.  See my tips above.  Although making it on the stovetop isn’t difficult, I’ve even made it in the microwave. 

What is the most important tip when making a roux?

Don’t leave it unattended.  No, actually, that’s true, but I think even more important is learning to take the melted butter off the heat when you add your flour, then take it off the heat again when you start to add your milk bit by bit. Here’s a trick that has worked for many of my students.   If you can’t remember when to take it off the heat, remember this one thing, “Every time you put something in the pot, take it off the heat and stir it in before you continue.” This has solved a lot of issues for some of my students.

So whether you’re making a cheesy white sauce to pop on some veg so the kids will eat them or as a sauce for fish at a dinner party, learn to make a roux/white sauce, and you’ll be a happy cook.

Close up of baked cheesy cauliflower and brocoli.
Cauliflower and broccoli baked in a cheesy white sauce
Close up on the inside of a chicken and leek pie with a bechamel white sauce.
Or a chicken and leek pie
White sauce in a white jug with a white dish in the background with butter pats in it.

White sauce (Bechamel)

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becs-table.com.au
Bechamel (white sauce). Many of our favourite meals need it. What would lasagna or moussaka be without it?
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Difficulty Medium
Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine French
Servings 4
Method Stove top

Ingredients
  

  • 500 g milk full cream this needs to be warm
  • 50 g butter unsalted (melted)
  • 50 g plain flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

Conventional Method:

  • Gently bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan. Remove it and set it aside but keep it warm.

Start making the roux

  • Melt the butter (or in another saucepan), once melted remove from the heat add in the plain flour and stir continuously until paste forms – this is called a roux. Place this back on the heat and continue to cook for a minute or so stirring constantly.
  • Gradually add the warm milk to the roux bit by bit stirring as you go, until you get a smooth sauce.
  • Now cook for 5-10 mins, stirring continuously until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste.

Thermomix TM31 TM5 Method:

  • Place butter into the TM bowl and melt 3 min/100°C/speed 1.
  • Add flour and cook 3 min/100°C/speed 1.
  • Add milk, salt, pepper, place the simmering basket on top of the lid, then and cook 6 min/90°C/speed 3.5.

Thermomix TM6 Method:

  • Place butter into the TM bowl and melt 3 min/100°C/speed 1.
  • Weigh the remainder of the ingredients into the TM bowl, place the simmering basket on top of the lid and choose Thicken mode 100°C and let your TM6 do it's magic.

Notes

Take the pot off the heat when you’re going to add ingredients, stir and combine well before popping it back on the heat.

Want to know more?

Would you like to learn how to add more flavour? Our online course, “A bit on the side“, might be the answer.

A bit on the side

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