Béchamel sauce is the secret to many recipes in traditional French cuisine. It’s easy and it’s polyvalant, versatile. You can slip it into a lot of recipes. You can make quantities of it and change its flavor in the shake of the wrist: curry powder, nutmeg, tarragon, grated cheese, basil, Mexican or Indian mixed seasonings just to name a few.
It’s cheap economical using kitchen basics that can be should be found in any kitchen: butter, milk, flour. (Can’t get much simpler than that!)
Whipping up a batch of béchamel sauce takes little culinary skill though at the end of a long day of work, I sometimes forget the easy of its directions. It’s a filler that matches just about any vegetable or meat/fish. There is one exception, steak, I wouldn’t serve it with steak. Meatballs, OK. Steak haché (beef patties) perhaps. Flank steak… NOT.
When I say it’s a filler and a matchmaker what I’m trying to convey here is that you can pour over almost anything. Take for example the other night, I had several types of leftover vegetables from previous dinners, not enough of each leftover to really serve all 4 of us for dinner. And with two young children, I can’t just reserve the same thing as last night without groans, grimaces and outright very vocal complaints. So I’ve learnt that bonne femme technique of hiding, transforming leftovers. Béchamel sauce works well for this trick.
Here’s how my dinner preparation went:
– I combined all my leftover veggies: green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and corn into a large mixing bowl
– I opened a can of tuna (a must-always-have-on-hand item!)
– I salted and peppered to my taste and whipped up a batch of béchamel sauce
– I added some curry to the sauce and poured the entire batch over the tuna and veggies.
– Added a handful or so of grated cheese (here I had Gruyere on hand but any type of grated baking cheese will do)
– Hup! in the oven and baked it for 25 minutes, let it set some before serving and hot tuna casserole was our main course.
What did I accomplish?
– I got rid of the leftovers
– I fed the family and
– I used up maybe a total of 12 minutes of cooking time. Now beat that on a Wednesday night!
While I used tuna here, if you have other leftover fish on hand, especially several types, then use them all. If you have leftover chicken, especially only one to two breasts (you know when you don’t have enough for everyone) chop them up and toss them in.
Basking in béchamel sauce is perfect for hiding those veggies the kids hate: zucchini, spinach… With grated cheese golden and bubbly topping the dish, the entire dinner table will be throwing up cheers.
(I haven’t gone into what you can do with pasta, potatoes and other starchy subjects!)
Let me wind down this entry by finalizing with this: once you learn to make this sauce, you’ll be on your way to becoming a true French cook. Future dinners will be a cinch to whip up, you’ll find you use it in a bind on many occasions and you’ll even make it for guests (to show off your culinary savoir-faire)
Easy Béchamel Sauce
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Yields: 2 cups
· 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
· 1 heaping tablespoon flour (regular or whole wheat)
· 2 cups milk (any kind)
· pinch of salt
· optional: pinch of nutmeg or curry
1. On medium heat, melt butter or margarine in saucepan.
2. Stir in flour and stir until completely combined and mixture starts to bubble (approximately 1 minute). *
3. Pour in milk all at once and stir almost constantly to avoid sticking until sauce has thickened. This will take between 7-10 minutes.
*For a light-colored sauce, avoid browning butter by pouring milk in while flour mixture is still golden in color.
Note: Sauce will thicken when cooled. If making in advance, add a bit of milk when reheating. Reheat gently on medium-low heat.