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The Versatility of Béchamel Sauce: A Culinary Essential

What is béchamel sauce and what is it used for?

Béchamel sauce, also known as “white sauce”, is a versatile and essential part of French cuisine. It holds a prestigious position as one of the five “mother sauces” along with velouté, espagnole, hollandaise and classic tomato sauce. This creamy sauce serves as the starting point for several secondary or “little sauces”, each with its own unique characteristics.

Origin of béchamel sauce

The origins of béchamel sauce can be traced back to the time of the Medicis, specifically when Marie de Medici arrived in France to marry King Henry IV. She was accompanied by a chef who introduced her to a cream sauce that was popular in the Italian regions of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. However, it wasn’t until the 17th century that the famous chef La Varenne mentioned béchamel in his book, The French Cook. La Varenne discussed the technique of making roux, a mixture of butter and flour, to create thicker and richer sauces.
Two French noblemen, the Duke of Mornay and the Marquise Louis de Béchamel, also played a role in the development of béchamel sauce. The Duke of Mornay is credited with inventing Mornay sauce, which is béchamel sauce with gruyère and parmesan cheese. As for the Marquis Louis de Béchamel, it is more likely that he was named after the sauce because of his wealth and reputation than that he was the actual inventor.

Béchamel sauce ingredients and preparation

To make a delicious béchamel sauce, you’ll need fat (such as butter, ghee, or oil) and all-purpose flour in a 1-to-1 ratio to make a roux, which forms the base of the sauce. Gradually add warm whole milk to the roux while whisking. As you whisk, the flour, milk, and fat paste will thicken and the sauce will become creamy. For best results, heat the milk before adding it to the butter and flour, stirring until the sauce reaches a medium-thick consistency.
A half cup of béchamel sauce typically contains about 184 calories, 13.9 grams of fat, 4% carbohydrates, and 10% protein. While béchamel sauce may not have a particularly exciting flavor on its own, its velvety texture enhances a wide range of dishes. It can transform thin sauces into hearty gravies and turn firm cheeses into luscious liquids, perfect for adding to pasta and vegetable dishes.

Using béchamel sauce in cooking

Béchamel sauce has the remarkable ability to elevate any dish to new heights. Once you’ve prepared the sauce, you can enhance it by adding grated cheese to create a creamy macaroni and cheese or use it as a co-star in a delicious cauliflower cheese recipe. Add a teaspoon of dry mustard to the flour mixture for a heavenly mustard sauce that complements fish or chicken dishes.
By cooking béchamel sauce with chopped onions, you can make a soubise sauce, a delicious accompaniment to pasta, pork, and lamb. If you prefer it plain or with a hint of nutmeg, béchamel sauce can be used as a creamy layer in lasagna, as recommended by Epicurious. And when combined with crumbled sausage, it becomes an essential ingredient in a Southern classic: biscuits and gravy.
One of the most appealing aspects of béchamel sauce is its forgiving nature. It retains its integrity even when reheated, allowing you to experiment with variations such as adding cheese, thyme, nutmeg, or a bay leaf. Béchamel sauce serves as the ultimate starter sauce, providing a solid foundation for a wide range of culinary creations.
Whether you’re a culinary enthusiast or simply looking to expand your cooking repertoire, understanding the versatility and applications of béchamel sauce is a valuable asset. Its creamy texture and ability to enhance flavors make it an essential ingredient in countless recipes, adding depth and richness to your dishes.
The next time you embark on a culinary adventure, consider using béchamel sauce as your secret weapon for creating delicious and memorable meals.


What is béchamel sauce?

Béchamel sauce, also known as “white sauce,” is a creamy sauce that serves as one of the basic “mother sauces” in French cuisine. It is made by combining a roux (a mixture of butter and flour) with warm milk, resulting in a smooth and velvety texture.

What are the origins of béchamel sauce?

It is believed that béchamel sauce originated in Italy during the time of the Medicis. It was introduced to France when Marie de Medici married King Henry IV and gained popularity in the 17th century with the writings of the famous chef La Varenne.

How do you make béchamel sauce?

To make béchamel sauce, start by melting butter in a saucepan. Add an equal amount of all-purpose flour to make a roux. Cook the roux over medium heat until it turns golden. Gradually whisk in the warm whole milk until the mixture thickens and becomes creamy. Season to taste with salt, pepper and other seasonings.

What can béchamel sauce be used for?

Béchamel sauce is incredibly versatile and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. It is the base for many other sauces and is often used in recipes such as macaroni and cheese, lasagna, gratins, creamed vegetables, and even as a sauce for meats and seafood.

Can béchamel sauce be reheated?

Yes, béchamel sauce can be reheated without losing its texture or flavor. Simply heat it gently over low heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches the desired temperature. If the sauce thickens too much upon reheating, you can add a small amount of warm milk to adjust the consistency.

Can I freeze béchamel sauce?

Yes, you can freeze béchamel sauce for later use. Allow the sauce to cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag. Label and date the container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw the sauce in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

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