Béchamel Sauce or Besciamella in italian (beh-shuh-mel-luh), is one of the mother sauces of the french and italian cuisine but it’s also known as white sauce.
For someone it may be a little tricky because sometimes it turns out a bit lumpy, but trust me and follow my quick recipe and tips for a perfect foolproof lump-free sauce, Besciamella is a really simple and versatile sauce!
History tells that an earlier version of Besciamella was born in Tuscany named as “Salsa Colla” (Glue Sauce), consisted in slow cooked milk with meat broth, spices and cream, then it was imported in France (together to serveral other recipes like onion soup) by Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of King Henry II of France, and then was modified by a chef in honour of the “marquis de Béchamel”, who held the honorary post of chief steward to Louis XIV.
Nowadays, in Italy, Besciamella is most used in the Emilian cuisine especially in the Lasagna recipe, Cannelloni, Pasta al Forno (baked pasta) and 4 cheeses pasta.
But it’s also used with vegetables such as baked cauliflowers or broccoli (for that recipe I like to use a more flavorful sauce: bechamel plus egg yolks, cream and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – called by chefs Mornay sauce – recipe in a next post).
Béchamel is made by melting butter with equal parts of flour in order to make a roux, which is cooked under low heat while stirring with a whisk and, because it’s a white sauce, you have to pay attention to not over brown the roux (a dark brown roux is usually used to thick roasted meats or stews so they will have more flavour, albeit less thickening power).
The roux is then mixed with nutmeg, heated milk, and it’s customary in Italy, especially in Emilia-Romagna, to add Parmigiano Reggiano cheese inside for a better taste. Then the sauce is cooked until thickened and smooth.
So, the final thickness of the sauce depends from the proportion between roux and milk and the cooking time, so if you want a more liquid Besciamella reduce the amount of roux, otherwise add more roux.
Béchamel Sauce (Besciamella) and my foolproof lump-free process
Preparation: Cooking Time:
Yield: ≈4 servings
- 4 1/4 cups / 1 lt milk (preferably not skimmed)
- 8 tbsp / 80 gr all-purpose flour (sifted)
- 8 tbsp / 80 gr unsalted butter
- 2-3 pinches freshly grated nutmeg
- salt to taste (1/4-1/2 tsp)
- Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (optional)
Note: these quantities of butter and flour produce a medium-thick Béchamel, suitable for Lasagne or as a base for other sauces (generally you can use one to three tablespoons each of flour and butter per cup of milk – e.g. one tbsp of each for a thin sauce while three tbsp of each for an extra thick sauce).
In a medium saucepan heat the milk with salt until little bubbling, then remove from heat or you can heat milk in microwave to save time (pre-heating the milk will reduce the time of stirring and controlling the sauce while cooking).
In another pan, melt the butter until foaming. Remove from heat, add flour, stir well with a whisk or a spoon and return to heat (if you don’t remove from heat the pan, the flour will cook too fast and lumps can be too difficult to dissolve).
Every minute (or when necessary) stir with a wooden spoon over a low heat until the roux is blond/light gold and smooth (to me it took about 10-12 minutes), paying attention to not over brown it.
Quickly add the nutmeg and mix well (adding nutmeg in the roux instead of in the milk will avoid the nutmeg to clump on the skin of the milk), remove from heat.
With one movement put all the roux into the scalded milk (into a saucepan). Stir with a whisk until smooth.
Return to heat and simmer Besciamella, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (or a whisk), until sauce comes to a boil, thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 5 minutes).
Wait 2-3 minutes (to allow flour to cook better) and then remove from heat (this will prevent the sauce from taste floury).
If desired add Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and stir a little bit.
Your perfectly smooth Besciamella is ready to be used however you like! (use it immediately as long as it’s hot, so it’s easier to deal with).
Remember… “home-made strikes back!”