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~ Plain, Simple & Unpretentious Basic White Sauce ~

IMG_2894Melted butter, flour and hot milk.  Whisk it all together with some salt and pepper to taste, simmer it for a few short minutes and you've got basic white sauce.  It's one of the things I learned to make "way back when" in Home Economics, and, the recipe the teacher used was out of a 1960's or '70's edition of the The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which was kept on a shelf along with a few of her other favorites of the time (The Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker's Cookbook, etc.).

IMG_2827 IMG_2935< On page 274 of this 1974 edition, Fannie Farmer writes a paragraph about white sauce and home economics, which, I am sure is why our teachers of the time enjoyed referencing it.

Butter + Flour + Milk + Seasoning = Basic White Sauce 

IMG_7034Basic white sauce couldn't be easier to make.  It's sometimes referred to as "cream sauce", because whole milk (not lowfat or skim) is used in its preparation, which, when thickened, takes on a creamy appearance. White sauce is traditionally made by melting butter or oil (never margarine or shortening), adding equal parts of flour (in proportion to the butter) to form a thick, smooth paste (called a "roux"), then whisking in hot, whole milk, until it thickens to the desired consistency (thin, medium or thick), then seasoning, to taste, with salt, pepper (black, white pepper or cayenne), and, bay leaf, clove and/or nutmeg.

In France, white sauce is called béchamel, and, in the 17th Century, in the days before refrigeration, they were the first to realize this very basic sauce could be used to enhance the flavors of a wide variety of foods, extend the shelf life of others, and, disguise the taste of foods that were turning bad.  In Italy, it is called balsamella and is used in dishes like lasagna and stuffed shells.  In Greece, it is called besamel, and is used in recipes like moussaka and pastitsio.  Universally, it's used to add a rich, velvety quality to many dishes and gratins.

The French used white sauce as the base to create a host of other mouthwatering sauces too: creme (w/cream added), nantua (w/seafood added), mornay (w/cheese added), mutarde (w/mustard added), soubise (w/onion added), and, cheddar (w/cheddar cheese added).  It's clear to me why white sauce was taught to us future home cooks in home economics class.

IMG_28542  cups whole milk, heated on the stovetop or in the microwave

4  tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, your choice

4  tablespoons, unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/16  teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend, about 40 coarse-grinds each and more salt if using unsalted butter

IMG_2864 IMG_2871 IMG_2873 IMG_2876~Step 1.  In a small saucepan on the stovetop or in a 2-cup measuring container in the microwave, heat the milk to steaming, not boiling.  Set aside.  Immediately:

Step 2.  In a 4-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and add all of the flour.  Whisking constantly, cook until the smooth paste begins to bubble, controlling the heat to make sure is does not brown, and, continue to cook a full 1 1/2-2 minutes.

Note:  It's important to allow this to bubble for 1 1/2-2 minutes because, if it does not, the white sauce will have a floury taste to it.  While whisking constantly, I just keep lifting the saucepan up and down, on and off the heat, to keep it bubbling without browning for the full 2 minutes.

IMG_2878~ Step 3.  Add the hot milk and continue to whisk constantly as the sauce thickens and comes to a gentle, steady simmer.  

Once simmering, add the cayenne pepper, optional nutmeg and season to taste with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend (I use about 40 grinds each).  

Remove from heat when desired consistency is reached.

IMG_7051~ Step 4.  Use immediately, as directed, or, transfer to a 2-cup container and cover with plastic wrap, placing the wrap directly on the surface of the sauce to prevent a rubbery skin from forming.  Cool to warm or room temperature, or, refrigerate overnight.  Return to room temp and reheat gently, whisking in 1/4-1/2 cup additional hot milk to control consistency.

Simply, silky-smooth & sumptuously creamy:

IMG_2893Plain, Simple & Unpretentious Basic White Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan, preferably nonstick; whisk; 2-cup measuring container; large spoon; plastic wrap

PICT0002Cook's Note:  You can find my detailed instructions for ~ How to: Make a Roux & Slurry (to Thicken Foods) ~ in Category 15.  Rouxs and slurries are really easy and great techniques to know too.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)


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