Since this blog is based on comfort and low stress food preparation, I try very hard not too over-complicate or to feel compelled to insist on too much of anything. However, there are a few basics that you should master and be able to produce with a few simple ingredients that are on hand. A good basic white sauce is one of these items.
Found throughout all kinds of culinary venues and recipes (Macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, and New England clam chowder to name just a few), a basic white sauce is truly a universal launching point for all kinds of tried and true traditional recipes as well as a launching point from which you can indulge your creative side and be able to experiment with a stable and reliable base.
Adjustable by quantity and by base ingredients, this sauce operates on the premise of equal parts of a fatty substance (butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, shortening, bacon grease, lard) and flour cooked together with liquid added, thickening it. The flour can be cooked to varying degrees of readiness prior to the liquid being added with its cooked color being the indicator for the appropriate time to incorporate it into other liquids or other liquids into it. Most notably are the four basic kinds of roux (pronounced: “roo”) that are used in Cajun and Creole cooking as a thickener in recipes like gumbo and jambalaya. These are classified as white, blond, brown and dark brown rouxs. These are typically made ahead of time and stored for later use in recipes. Usually, the darker a roux becomes the less it is used for thickening (as the cooked flour begins to lose its thickening properties) and the more it is used for flavor.
A few classic white sauces are:
- Béchamel Sauce, which is traditionally cooked with butter, the milk is pre-heated to scalding (just before boiling), and the sauce is lightly seasoned with nutmeg.
- Mornay Sauce, your basic white sauce with cheese melted into it
- Aurore Sauce is a tomato-cream sauce using tomato paste whisked into a Béchamel Sauce, used with eggs, fish, and chicken
- Dijonnaise Sauce is a mustard-based sauce using Dijon style (or other mustard) whisked into a Béchamel Sauce, used with fish and ham
Basic White Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3-4 cups milk (depending upon the final use of the sauce and the desired thickness)
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a medium-to-large, heavy saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. It’s hot enough to add the flour when a pinch of flour added to it bubbles and foams. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 or 7 minutes. Stir as needed and be careful with your heat. I have burned a few of these by not paying attention to my heat. After the 6 or 7 minutes you should not be able to smell a raw flour smell; it should be more of a “nutty” smell.
Add the milk to the butter/flour mixture a little bit at a time, whisking as you go, until smooth. Let it come to a bubbly low boil. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring constantly, and then remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside until ready to use. If color integrity is ultra-critical in your end use for this sauce, you will probably want to use a ground white pepper for your seasoning. For a béchamel, try a couple of pinches, about a ½ teaspoon, of nutmeg stirred in at the end, as well. (Fresh grated is much better than pre-ground!)
Have some fun with this sauce. It truly can be considered a first step towards many wonderful comfort-able-food adventures. Enjoy!
As memory serves from observing, adapting, and enjoying learning, from my Mom…
Roasted Butternut Squash/Soup
1 butternut squash (works well with Acorn Squash, too…)
2 tablespoons butter
2 pinches of salt
Maple Syrup (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut 1 butternut squash in half. There is no need to peel it, but if needed you can cut off a small piece of the end so that it sits nicely on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Place one pat of butter in each half and sprinkle with salt. If desired, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup (or brown sugar) into each half. Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon into each half, if desired.
Be sure the oven is preheated to before placing in oven.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large white onion, diced
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 butternut squash as prepared above omitting the syrup or brown sugar
2 cans of chicken stock (low sodium is okay)
½ pint heavy cream
¼ cup of cooking sherry
Pinch of sage
Pinch of nutmeg
Ground white pepper and salt to taste
In your favorite soup-pot, sauté the onions and carrots in the butter and oil until lightly caramelized and soft. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine and simmer on medium to low heat for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to boil. Remove from heat and puree with a hand blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot. Dresses up nicely with a small spoonful of sour cream on top of the soup and topped off with a sprig of fresh parsley. Enjoy!