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Volume III
November 11, 2011

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n

Make Kitchen Magic with White Sauces!

By Alice Osborne

Basic white sauce is also known as bechemal. The exciting - even magical - thing about white sauce is how adaptable and versatile it is. There are many other sauces to be made using variations on a main white sauce recipe.

Once you master the art of white saucing, you can really make some kitchen magic! It's not hard to make, and homemade taste SO much better than canned or packaged. I use white sauce as the base for potato soup, cheesy broccoli chowder, beef stroganoff, Alfredo sauce, homemade macaroni and cheese, and the list goes on and on.

Whatever recipe you use, there are some very basic steps to making a smooth white sauce:

First, melt butter in a heavy sauce pan over medium low heat. Then stir in flour. Using a wire whisk, stir the butter-flour mixture until bubbles. This is called a roux (pronounced "rue"). The roux is cooked for about 2 minutes to eliminate the raw flour taste and allow the starch granules in the flour to accept the liquid.

Then the roux is removed from the heat and warm milk is slowly added to the mixture. This is where some vigorous whisking comes in. After everything is nicely mixed together - no lumps - the pan goes back to the burner and the sauce is cooked and stirred again over medium heat until it thickens. This process begins at the bottom of the pot, so be sure to stir constantly, using that wire whisk.

When the sauce is thickened and just begins to boil, it is removed from the heat, and voila, you've made a white sauce! Season it to taste with salt and white pepper, and any other ingredients you like, depending on the variation you're wanting. (See below.)

A few things to remember: Heating the liquid ensures lumps won't form as easily in the sauce. Make sure you cook the flour-butter mixture for 1-2 minutes so the sauce will thicken. Using a wire whisk really is essential. It incorporates the liquid into the roux very well, preventing lumps from forming.

So with this basic know-how, give this recipe a try, then look below for just a few variations on a beautiful theme.

Basic White Sauce

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
dash salt
dash white pepper

In heavy saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Stir in flour with a wire whisk. Cook over low heat for three minutes, stirring constantly (This mixture is called a roux). Do not allow the mixture to brown. Gradually stir in milk, whisking constantly. Cook over low heat for 3-5 more minutes until sauce begins to thicken. Season to taste. Makes 1 cup.

Help on downloading recipes

And here's a chart I found in Aunt Annie's recipe box on how to make different thicknesses of sauce, using cornstarch instead of flour. But you could easily substitute flour for the cornstarch. When I make mac & cheese, for instance, I want a fairly thick sauce. But brown sauce (what I call gravy) should be on the thin side. So this is a handy reference:

Veloute Sauce:
Use chicken broth or fish stock instead of milk.

Mornay Sauce:
Add 1/2 cup of grated Swiss, Gruyere or Emmanthal cheese after sauce thickens. Remove from heat and whisk until melted and smooth.

Onion White Sauce:
Cook 1 Tbsp. minced onion in the butter until translucent. Then add the flour and continue with the recipe.

Mustard White Sauce:
Whisk in 1-2 tsp. prepared mustard after the sauce is thickened.

Brown Sauce:
When cooking the flour and butter mixture together, stir constantly and cook until the mixture begins to turn brown. Use chicken or beef stock instead of the milk.

Curry Sauce:
Add 1-3 tsp. of curry powder (to taste) to the butter and simmer for 1 minute before adding the flour. Continue with the recipe as directed.

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