Sauce Béchamel

November 25, 2009

Sauces comprise the honor and glory of French cookery.

One of the mother sauces (sauces mères). Some claim that Catherine de Medici’s skilled Tuscan cooks imported Béchamel to France from Italy in the 16th century. Others assert that the father of French haute cuisine, chef Francois Pierre de la Varenne created this sauce during King Louis XIV’s reign. It has been fairly firmly speculated that the sauce was named after a courtier, Louis de Béchameil, marquis de Nointel who was maître d’hôtel (major domo) of that same sun king, Louis Roi—perhaps Europe’s longest ruling monarch (1643-1715).

Crème, Mornay, and Soubise are compound sauces derived from Béchamel as a base.

Clarified butter means the milk solids and water have been removed from the butter. Use unsalted butter and melt it slowly in a saucepan over low heat without stirring. Let the heated butter sit still so that the milk solids and water separate from the butter fat. Skim the foam from the surface. Remove from the heat and let stand a few minutes until the milk solids settle to the bottom. Carefully pour the clear yellow liquid (the clarified butter) into a container, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the saucepan.

Béchamel can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.


5 T clarified butter
5 T flour

3 C whole milk, brought to a simmer in advance

1/2 C veal or chicken stock
2 T yellow onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch of nutmeg
Sea salt and white pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan, add the clarified butter and the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes to make a blond roux. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Then add the stock, onions, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper and simmer gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Strain through a cheesecloth.