Bechamel Sauce Stephanie O’Keefe

17 09 2008

Bechamel sauce is one of the five mother sauces.  One of the few French sauces that is easy to prepare but is flavorful and delicate enough to serve on its own or as a base. It is a basic white sauce, used for the bases of over fifty different kinds of white sauces.   Around since since the 14Th century, without the luxury of modern refrigeration, people were very wary of using milk in their recipes.  Only the rich or royalty could use milk in their sauces. 

Bechamel in the 17Thcentury was a very complicated sauce which contained a number of vegetables and wines, as well as old hens and old partridges.  Then strained several times and was finished with reduced cream and cooked in the oven.  Today’s simple bechamel sauce takes around five minutes to make and has three ingredients; butter, four, and milk. 

There are four theories on the origin of Bechamel Sauce

1) The Italian version of this sauce was created in the 14Th century and introduced by Italian chefs of Catherine De Medici, the Italian-born Queen of France.  In 1533 she married Duke of Orleans, the future King of France.  Because her Italian chefs and pastry chefs followed her to France, this is when the Italian cooking was introduced  to France.

2) Invented by Duke Mornay, Governor of Saumur.  Bechamel Sauce was a variation of his basic white sauce of Mornay.  How could this be when Bechamel is the mother sauce of Mornay?

3) Marquis Bechamelis said to have invented the sauce to come up with a new way of serving and eating dried cod.  The consensus is clear, although the sauce was named after him he did not invent the sauce.  It was named after him by an unknown chef who applied his name to a thick veloute, to which liberal amounts of fresh cream was added.

4) More than likely Chef Francois La Varenne (1615-1678) created this sauce.  He was court Chef for King Louis XIV’s  (1643-1715) reign.  La Varenne wrote The True French Cook, which included Bechamel Sauce.  It is thought that he dedicated it to Bechamel as a compliment.  His recipes used roux as a thickener or other animal fat, instead of using bread as a thickener for sauces.

Bechamel Sauce

3 TB butter

4 1/2 TB flour

3 cups of milk heated to boil with salt to season

In sauce pan melt the butter over low flame.  Blend the flour and cook slowly to form a white roux.  Remove from heat, temper milk into pot.  Blend together to form smooth consistancey.  Bring  to boil, boil one minute, stiring.  Remove from heat season with salt and white pepper. 


Tips on making a quality bechamel

     Always use a stanless steel pot to prevent the sauce from turning grey or burning on bottom of pot

     Once sauce is done, if lumpy (should not be if you make a good roux) force through a chinos then simmer for five mins.

    If sauce is too thick, bring to simmer and thin with milk (add milk slowly)

    If sauce is too thin, blend 1/2 TB of butter into a paste with1 TB of flour.  Off heat, beat paste into sauce with wisk, then boil for one min, stirring frequently.


Usually served with white meats, eggs, fish, hot hors d’oeuvresand vegetables.

Uses for this base can make many different classical sauces.

*Mornay Sauce (Cheese)

*Nantua Sauce (shrimp, butter, and cream)

*Creme Sauce (heavy cream)

*Mustard Sauce (prepared mustard)

*Soubise Sauce (fine diced onoins sweated in butter)

Cheddar cheese Sauce (cheddar cheese, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce)




One response

18 09 2008
derek desroches

The recipe for bechamel is incomplete. You also need to simmer an onion piquet (quarter of an onion, bay leaf attached with a clove) for about half an hour and then proper bechamel is finished with nutmeg. You have to cook the flower in the sauce and “boiling for one minute” is nowhere near long enough. Also, four ounces of roux (equal parts flour and butter by weight) will thicken 1 quart of milk to sauce consistency. The type of pot won’t change the fact that if your heat is to high you will burn the sauce but if you use a plastic utensil in an aluminum pot you won’t have grey sauce.

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