Makes about 1 quart
Béchamel is one of the oldest sauces and it is prepared by making a roux from butter and flour—usually in equal proportions, or sometimes a little less flour. The roux is cooked until beige or golden (in the case of gumbo it is browned—often lard or meat-drippings are used for the fat), and then the milk is added slowly and whisked or stirred to prevent lumps. A bay leaf is a traditional addition from the French béchamel to the Italian balsamella. In this recipe, onion and garlic are added for perhaps a less authentic, but more flavorful béchamel. This sauce is used to cover vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood; to thicken soups or other sauces; and as a base for soufflés, gratins, casseroles, and lasagnas.
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 3 tablespoons unbleached flour
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
• 2 or 3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
• 3 cups whole milk
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a non-reactive sauté pan melt the butter over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the flour and stir for about 3 minutes.
2. Add the onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring. Add the garlic and stir 1 minute more. Stir in 1 cup of the milk and bay leaves. Add the rest of the milk stirring with a whisk to get rid of any lumps, until it is smooth and thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
• If making macaroni and cheese, add grated cheddar (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups) to the béchamel, a pinch of thyme, a few pinches cayenne, and 1 teaspoon of dry mustard. Toss with cooked noodles.
• As a sauce for vegetables, say Brussels sprouts, pearl onions, carrots, etc., you might want to add an herb and 1 or 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard or even some horseradish.
For creamed spinach, add a few dashes freshly grated nutmeg and parmesan cheese.
• For mushroom gravy, add some sautéed mushrooms, perhaps even some dried and soaked mushrooms with their liquor, and some miso, tamari soy sauce, or Bragg’s aminos for flavor and color.
• For scalloped potatoes, add some mustard, perhaps parsley, paprika, and some grated cheddar or parmesan cheese.