White sauce is a common name (chiefly in the US and Britain) for the classic Béchamel Sauce, one of the "Mother Sauces" of French Cuisine. In French cooking, Béchamel Sauce is rarely used on its own; it is more often used as the base for derivitave sauces or as a binder for gratinées. Béchamel's American cousin, on the other hand, is frequently used as a finished product. White sauce is generally more highly seasoned than is Béchamel, but the procedure for making both is the same.
Recipes from the 19th century and earlier often call for slowly simmering white sauce, for an hour or more, with whole onions and spices, then straining the finished sauce. Today, it is more common to use dried/ground seasonings; there is little difference in the finished product.
- Make a white roux: melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add the flour and whisk together, still over the heat, for 2–3 minutes. The flour should lose its raw smell but should not brown.
- Add the milk to the roux while whisking quickly but smoothly to create a smooth mixture.
- Add the seasonings and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Simmer the sauce until it lightly coats the back of a spoon.
- Remove the bay leaf, taste and adjust for salt and pepper, and serve.
Notes, tips, and variations edit
- A sweet white sauce can be made by replacing the seasoning items with sugar (preferably caster). Adding rum or brandy to taste will make this the sweet sauce traditionally served with Christmas pudding.
- The seasonings can be adjusted according to individual taste and the intended use: some dishes will require a more highly seasoned sauce, others a milder concoction.
- The flavor can also be altered by adding various herbs (parsley, celery leaves, thyme, etc.) along with the other seasonings. Generally, additions should be strained from the sauce prior to use—straining would not apply, for instance, to traditional parsley sauce, typically served with fish, in which the green of the herb is an integral ingredient. Keep in mind that the sauce should be mildly flavored and that any additions should complement the finished dish, not overpower it.
- White sauce can be made ahead-of-time: remove from the heat and press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the sauce to prevent it from forming a skin. Reheat over a low flame, stirring constantly, until it barely simmers.
- In the event that lumps have formed in your sauce, simply pour through a medium strainer before serving.