Basic white sauce recipe and variations

Mastering a basic white sauce recipe is a skill that will benefit anyone learning how to cook. Once you know how to make white sauce you can dress up a meal, and make it special.

Is it difficult? Not really. The most important thing is to measure carefully. If your proportions are wrong then your sauce will not turn out as desired.

Things to keep in mind when making white sauce

  • You need slightly more fat (in weight) than you do flour. This will give a soft paste rather than a dry crumbly roux.
  • The fat used for a sauce can be butter, margarine, lard (shortening) or oil but each one will give a different type of sauce.
  • To keep the sauce white, do not let the fat sizzle or change colour. Melt it gently and remove from the heat to stir in the flour.
  • To avoid a granular texture, and make it easier to blend, you need to have either the roux (flour and fat paste) or the liquid warm or hot, but not both! So if your roux is hot, you need to add cold or luke warm liquid to it. On the other hand if your roux is cold then the liquid must be warm.

The consistency of your white sauce

The consistency of your sauce will vary depending on the amount of flour to liquid in your recipe. See below for the different types of sauce you can create...


For some purposes you will want a flowing sauce to serve as an accompaniment to a meal. In this case you need to use 1/2 oz butter, just under 1/2 oz flour and 1/2 pint liquid.


A coating white sauce recipe needs to be slightly thicker so that it clings to things such as fillets of fish, eggs or vegetables. This time you need 3/4oz butter, just under 3/4oz flour to the same 1/2 pint of liquid.


A Panada is a really thick sauce, used for binding such things as croquettes. Here we would use 1.5 to 2 oz butter and just under 1.5 to 2 oz flour to our 1/2 pint of liquid.

Binding your sauce

We will use a technical term here, liaison (you can find out the meaning of cooking terms such as this, in the glossary.) it is used to denote certain ingredients that are used to thicken sauces, stews and soups. The most common liaisons are...

Kneaded butter

In a similar manner to our roux above the term kneaded butter refers to a mixture of butter and flour, but this time in very different proportions: twice as much butter as flour is used. The butter is not melted, but mixed with the flour on a plate to make a paste. Small pieces of this cold mixture are then dropped into cooked dishes, such as stews, where the quantity of liquid is unknown, making it difficult o judge how much flour should be used.

The kneaded butter is added to hot (but not boiling) liquids. As you do so, the butter will melt and the flour will be absorbed into the liquid. Once it has melted you can turn the heat up to see if it was enough to thicken the dish. If not turn down the heat and repeat.

Arrowroot or cornflour

Mixed with a little water to make a runny paste, arrowroot or cornflour can be used as a liaison. In fact this mixture has another technical term, a fécule. To use it, take the pan of food off the heat, stir in the fécule and then put back on the heat and bring to the boil and the liquid in the dish should thicken to make a nice sauce.

Egg yolks and cream

For a creamy consistency a mixture of egg yolk and cream can be blended into a dish. Just add a little at a time to a small quantity of the liquid from the dish. When all the egg/cream mixture has been blended, then stir it gradually into the main dish. Reheat, stirring continuously, but do not bring to the boil. The egg yolks will cook slowly and result in a distinctive creamy sauce.

White Sauce Recipe


  • 3/4oz butter
  • 1 rounded tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 pint milk
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


After all the information above, the recipe itself is quick and easy.

  1. Melt the butter in a small pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour.
  2. Blend in half the milk, a little at a time, stirring continuously, then add the rest and pop the pan back on the heat. Stir this over a moderate heat until it comes to the boil. Continue to cook, for 1-2 minutes then season to taste.

Variations on the basic white sauce recipe

You can add a number of different ingredients to your sauce. The following variations also suggest the type of dishes that they are traditionally served with.

Cheese Sauce Recipe (Mornay)

To the white sauce recipe above add...

  • 1 to 1.5oz (2-3 rounded tablespoons) grated Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard

Stir in the cheese to the basic white sauce. Then mix in the mustard. Reheat, but do not boil.

Anchovy Sauce


  • 1 teaspoon of anchovy essence, 
  • or a few chopped anchovies, the sauce once it has thickened. Makes a lovely sauce to serve with fish.

Parsley Sauce

Another sauce that makes a wonderful accompaniment to white fish. This time add 1-2 tablespoons of chopped parsley (either curly or flat leaved) to the thickened sauce.

Egg Sauce

Chop a hard boiled egg, finely, and add this to the sauce once it has thickened. This sauce is normally served with boiled chicken.

Horseradish Sauce

A sauce with some tang to it! Traditionally served with roast beef at Sunday lunch in the UK.

  • 1 desert spoon vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons grated horseradish root
  • a splash of double cream
  • a pinch of sugar

Whisk the vinegar to the hot sauce, along with the grated horseradish. After removing the pan from the heat, stir in the cream and sugar before serving.

Mustard Sauce

This time we need to add dry mustard powder, about 1 dessertspoon, to the flour. Add this mixture to the melted butter in the pan to make the roux. Continue as for the basic white sauce recipe, stirring in a little single cream before serving over oily fish, such as mackerel or herring.

Moving on

Once you have mastered the basic white sauce recipe you can try two classic variations, bechamel sauce and veloute. Both of these can then be used in other dishes.