Who is Béchamel? By Toby S.

5 11 2008

It is widely disputed who and/or where the mother sauce Béchamel was first invented.  Some say it was invented by Philippe de Mornay the man who invented Mornay sauce, among others.  It is also said that it was invented by Catherine de Medici’s Tuscan cooks who then brought it to France in the seventeenth century.  Then there are those who claim that Marquis Louis de Béchamel invented it himself while serving as a chief steward to Louis XIV.  However it seems to be more likely and widely accepted that Louis XIV chef François Pierre de la Varenne invented it and named it in honor of Marquis Louis de Béchamel who severed the king during the same period.  Nevertheless the original recipe was as follows:


Bechamel Sauce – Traditional Method

5 Tbsp. clarified butter
50 gr. very lean veal , cut in small dice
5 Tbsp. flour
3 cups milk, brought to a boil before using
2 Tbsp. onion, chopped
1 small sprig thyme
1/4 or 1/2 bay leaf
pinch of nutmeg
salt and white pepper

  • Gently cook the veal in a small pan with a little butter.  Avoid browning and set aside.
  • In a different saucepan create a roux with the remaining butter and flour.  Cook for 5mins avoid any browning.
  • Add the boiling milk, mix well, add the veal and remaining ingredients to the roux and simmer very gently for 45mins to 1hr.
  • Strain through cheese cloth.


Whoever invented the original recipe is really irrelevant, for the most part anyway, because it really isn’t used anymore.  This is due to Georges Auguste Escoffier.  He invented a much quicker and easier way to prepare Béchamel sauce that we still use today.  The recipe also known as the quick method is as follows:



Bechamel Sauce – Quick Method


3 Tbsp. butter
4 1/2 Tbsp. flour
3 cups of milk scalded

1 Onion layer from quartered oinion

1 Bay leaf, small

1 Clove
TT Salt

TT White pepper

TT Nutmeg


  • In a saucepan melt butter and add flour to create a roux.  Being careful not to allow any browning.  Set aside to cool.
  • Scald milk in a separate pan, then whisk in roux making sure there are no lumps.  Bring mixture to a boil stirring constantly and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Stick the bay leaf to the onion with the clove and add to the simmering sauce.
  • Cook until the sauce thickens.   If too thick adjust with a little more milk.
  • Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste.
  • Strain through china cap lined with cheese cloth.


Personally, I love this sauce because it is delicate enough on it’s own to add to poultry or even potatoes, but you can also infuse other flavors to create other well know small sauces like Mornay, Cream and Soubise.  Or you can just incorporate other flavors as you see fit to create something new.  It’s subtle, delicate flavor lends itself well to tinkering and as a chef (to be) that’s the kind of base I love build off of creatively.





Professional Cooking, W. Gisslen, 6th edition, Page 171















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