A classic of French cuisine, béchamel is a key ingredient of dishes including lasagne, gratin and soufflé. If yours ends up lumpy, too runny, not salty enough, or you haven't tried making your own yet, here are the secrets to a perfect béchamel sauce!
Béchamel sauce recipe (makes 1/2 litre)
- 40g flour
- 40g butter
- 500ml milk
- salt and pepper
- grated nutmeg
Melt the butter over a low heat. When it starts to froth, add the flour all at once and leave to cook for 5 minutes, stirring quickly with a wooden spoon. Pour in a bit of the milk and stir. The mixture should form a slightly dense paste that separates into little balls. Add the rest of the milk and stir so you obtain an even mixture without lumps. Add salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg to finish with.
Tips and variations
Getting rid of lumps
To avoid getting lumps, let the flour and butter form a paste that comes off the sides of the pan when you add the first bit of milk. If not, cheat and use a blender (we'll not tell anyone!).
Add seasoning and flavouring to béchamel at the end of cooking so you get the quantity right.
Runny or thick?
Depending on the type of recipe you're using, the desired consistency of your béchamel will vary. To make it runnier, simply add milk. For the runny kind of béchamel you need for lasagne, add about 200ml of milk.
Replace the flour with cornflour, leave out the butter, and use semi-skimmed or skimmed milk. Mix 40g of cornflour and 500ml of milk in a bottle and shake vigorously, then thicken over a low heat.
Replace the milk with stock. You'll obtain a white roux, which is a healthy alternative to ordinary béchamel.
Add 40-50g of grated cheese of your choice.
Incorporate 2 tablespoons of tomato purée + 1 tablespoon of crème fraîche at the end.
Ham & mushroom béchamel
Add 1 or 2 slices of chopped ham or 200g of cooked chopped mushrooms to your béchamel.
Add a teaspoon of curry powder.
What can you make with béchamel?
>> Sauce to serve with meals or as topping. Semi-liquid béchamel sauce can be poured over fish, vegetables, rice, etc.
>> Vegetable, pasta and fish bakes. Topping with béchamel and breadcrumbs or béchamel and cheese.
>> Croque-monsieur (toasted ham and cheese sandwich): to make this classic French toastie, drizzle béchamel on the inside and top of your usual cheese and ham toastie.
>> Lasagne: you need very runny béchamel for lasagne because the pasta sheets absorb the liquid in cooking.
>>Savoury soufflés: you can’t make soufflé without béchamel! Simply add ingredients like cheese, mushrooms and ham to your béchamel.
>> Quiche: béchamel can be used as a straight replacement for crème fraîche.