Béchamel is classical white sauce that is made with milk thickened with a roux. Blond roux is traditionally used, and the amount of roux will determine the sauce’s consistency. Vegetables or aromatics are sometimes added to strengthen the flavor, but they are normally strained out after cooking to preserve the characteristic smooth texture.
Béchamel is an essential recipe and technique, because it serves as the base for a number of dishes, like macaroni and cheese, some cream soups, lasagna, savory soufflés, and of course, the essential brunch favorite: croque monsieur. Bechamel is one of two classic white sauces. The other, velouté is made using stock instead of milk.
In a saucepan over medium heat, soften the aromatics, if using, in a small amount of butter or oil. Add the flour, stirring frequently, to form the roux. If not using aromatics, heat the fat over medium and add the flour, stirring to combine. Cook until the roux is golden with a slightly nutty aroma.
Add the milk, stirring or whisking well to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce develops good flavor and consistency. Add the sachet d’épices or other seasoning, if using, and simmer over low to medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. (Simmering for 30 minutes is long enough to cook away any raw flour flavor from the roux.) Use a wooden spoon to stir the sauce while it simmers, making sure that the spoon scrapes the bottom and corners of the pot, to prevent scorching.
The finished sauce should be translucent, smooth, and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve or moistened cheesecloth. As the sauce simmers, it will almost inevitably develop a thick skin on its surface as well as a heavy, gluey layer on the bottom and sides of the pot. Straining the sauce removes any lumps and develops a very smooth texture. The sauce is now ready to use.
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