How to make bechamel sauce

Bechamel sauce is one of the classic white sauce recipes. I covered the basics of making a white sauce on another page in this site, and this sauce differs in that the milk is flavoured before being added to the roux.

In France it is known as sauce mére or mother sauce, because it is the base of so many other sauces, and as such, it is useful to learn.

Below the basic recipe I give instructions for making it as a...

making bechamel sauce

Bechamel Sauce Recipe

For the milk infusion

  • 1/2 pint (250 ml) milk
  • 1 slice of onion
  • a small piece of celery
  • 1 small bayleaf
  • 6 peppercorns
  • I blade of mace

For the roux

  • 3/4oz (25g) butter
  • 1 rounded tablespoon flour
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

These proportions will give a coating sauce, if you require a pouring or a thicker sauce.

Béchamel Sauce Method

  1. Pour the milk into a saucepan, add the flavourings and pop the lid on. Place on a low to moderate ring and let it heat gently for 5-7 minutes.
  2. Pour the milk through a sieve to remove any solid matter (which you can discard) and put the milk to one side. Rinse out, and dry, the pan so you can use it again to make the roux.
  3. Melt the butter in the pan, and then remove from the heat to stir in the flour. (If you leave it on the heat to do this step your sauce will change colour). You are aiming for a soft paste that is semi-liquid, not something dry and crumbly.
  4. Pour on half of the strained milk, and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon until blended together. Then add the rest of the milk, season (don't forget to taste it, in case the seasoning needs adjusting), and pop the pan back on the heat. Bring to the boil, while stirring and boil gently for 1-2 minutes, no longer!

Rescuing a lumpy sauce

If you do not stir it at this stage it could become lumpy. If you realise it is getting lumpy before it gets to the boil, you can sometimes rescue your bechamel sauce by using a Balloon Whisk to beat out the lumps vigorously. It is too late if it has already come to the boil, and you will have to resort to straining out the lumps.

Mushroom sauce

  • 2oz (60g) mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1oz (30g) butter
  • 1 rounded tbsp flour
  • 1/2 pint (250ml) flavoured milk (as per recipe above)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Cook the mushrooms in half the melted butter until they have soaked it up (about 2-3 minutes).
  2. Remove the mushrooms from the pan, and melt the rest of the butter. Take off the heat and stir in the flour. Add half the milk and mix well to blend. Then pour in the rest of the milk, and add the mushrooms. Season to taste and bring back to the boil, stirring. Boil for 2 minutes.
  3. Great served with fish, eggs, chicken or burgers.

Onion sauce (Soubise)

  • 1 quantity of bechamel sauce (1oz butter to 2 tbsp flour)
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 1oz (30g) butter
  • 1 tbsp single (light) cream
  • salt and pepper
  1. Place the onions into a pan of water and bring to the boil. Cook until tender. By boiling them they remain white, if we fried them instead, they could take on some colour, which we do not want.
  2. Pop the cooked onions into a food processor or blender and whizz to a puree.
  3. Add the onion puree to the bechamel sauce and also stir in the cream. Heat gently (do not boil).
  4. This sauce can be served over hard boiled eggs, or with white meat such as chicken, veal or rabbit.