- Prep time 5 minutes
- Cook time 15 minutes
- Makes 1 liter of béchamel
This is the traditional French béchamel sauce used for gratins, soufflés, with eggs, etc. This will give you a creamy medium thick béchamel. —Babette's Feast
Test Kitchen Notes
Here's a simple step-by-step recipe for a classic béchamel sauce, aka "white sauce." According to What's Cooking America, it was said to have been invented by Duke Philippe De Mornay in the 17th century. There are also competing origin stories that the sauce was created in Italy in the early 14th century and later brought over to France, or, alternatively, that the Marquis Louis de Bechamel, a 17th century financier and right-hand man of King Louis XIV, invented it when attempting to devise a new way of serving dried cod.
Regardless of its origin story, béchamel is indisputably delicious. It starts with a roux (a cooked mixture of fat and flour—often butter— which come together to get all roasty-toasty in a pan) and then dairy and seasonings (like salt, pepper, and nutmeg) join the party. It's one of the French mother sauces, used as the base for many other sauces, like mornay (béchamel + cheese, but more on this later).
Béchamel is luxuriously thick and silky, thanks to the slow addition of milk to the roux. You can use less milk and introduce a longer cooking time for a thicker béchamel, or use more milk and stick with a shorter cooking time for a smoother, thinner one (perfect for lasagna—we love it dearly).
Any way you make it, you can use plain béchamel in about a million different dishes. Think: baked eggs, pasta dishes, creamy spinach, potato gratin, mac and cheese, melty croque monsieurs galore. And there are a million more ways to gussy it up. Here are some of our favorites:
For a cheesy cheddar sauce: Whisk a few ounces of grated cheddar into the béchamel until it's smooth and melty.
For mornay sauce: Whisk a few ounces of grated Gruyère into the béchamel until it's smooth and melty.
For aurora sauce: Whisk a couple tablespoons of tomato purée into the béchamel.
For soubise sauce: Sauté some chopped white or yellow onions, then purée them and whisk that purée together with béchamel.
For a mustard sauce: Stir in a few tablespoons of good Dijon mustard into the béchamel. You can strain it through a chinois if you'd like a super-smooth sauce. —The Editors
butter cut in small cubes
all purpose flour
- Warm the milk.
- Sift the flour twice to lighten it.
- In a pan, melt the cut up butter until it starts to sizzle. When it stops sizzling, add the flour all at once and whisk continuously over low heat until well blended and almost dry.
- Slowly whisk in the warm milk, stirring constantly. When it's creamy, whisking over low heat to cook the flour for 12 minutes, or until your desired consistency is reached.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Other ingredients you can add to change the taste: curry or all spice for a vegetable gratin, or Emmenthal cheese for a potato gratin.