Béchamel sauce or white sauce, as it’s called in the U.S., is believed to have originated in France, named after creator Louis de Béchamel, though some writers suggest it may have come from Italy and found its way to France. In Italy, it’s called besciamella, while the Greek refer to it as besamel. According to an article written by Celeste Stewart on Everyday Health, it is one of the five major French “mother” sauces. The sauce dates back to the 18th century, an era where food got spoilt much faster. Sauces come in handy, probably to mask the flavour coming out of chicken and meat, as well as seafood.
Apart from Béchamel which is white, the four other mother sauces include velouté, Espagnol, hollandaise and tomato. They all have their different distinct flavors, are used to thicken food, add flavor, moisture and make a dish richer. Being a mother sauce, there can be distinct variations with other ingredients to make other sauces. When Gruyère cheese is added, the result is Mornay Sauce, Crayfish butter results in Nantua sauce, purée from sautéed onions makes Soubise sauce. A cream sauce made from heavy cream, with added cheddar cheese and mustard, Worcestershire sauce makes a cheddar cheese sauce.
A flavorful sauce can be used to make many dishes namely; Macaroni n’ Cheese, Lasagna, Croque monsieur, sandwiches, fish pie, chicken pie. Others include Musaka, Corn Chowder, Greek cheese pie, Alfredo, creamy carbonara souffle, gratin etc. The original sauce was made from butter, flour and milk. Making béchamel involved mixing equal parts of butter and flour to form a “roux” then whisking it together with milk to make a thick sauce whose outcome led to Béchamel sauce. Another variation of the recipe from the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts involves roux, milk, salt, pepper and onion pique. The onion pique comes from using a white/yellow onion, two bay leaves, and cloves.
The onion pique is made by cutting an onion into half, taking one half, putting the bay leaves on top and holding them together with one or two cloves. This pique is then put in the milk to boil together, adding flavor to the sauce. The beauty is that once the milk comes to a boil, it is removed and discarded leaving the milk flavorful as compared to the original recipe where the milk was just plain. When the sauce is ready, salt and pepper are added to taste. Escoffier Online also suggests adding melted butter to the top of the sauce when ready to prevent the skin from forming. An additional ingredient in some recipes involves the use of Nutmeg, which was not part of the original sauce recipes but has been known to add an extra kick to the sauce.
Recipes call for adding of the spiced nutmeg, as it gives a distinct flavor that is not obvious in the sauce, its presence is invisible but makes a difference. Grate a little nutmeg on top of the sauce, then stir a little more before serving. Its texture is bound to feel heavenly, based on the recommendation of chefs like Alex Delany from BonAppetit. Chef Delany says, “It’s not a flavor you should necessarily be able to pick out if you didn’t already know it was there, but nutmeg lends this otherwise kind of one-note sauce a considerable amount of warmth, spice, and complexity”. Joanna from Jo Cooks mentions Nutmeg and Salt as one thing the sauce cannot go without. Therefore, the super-secret ingredient seems to be a hint of Nutmeg. Without it, Chef Julien from Saveurs says it is simply a white sauce.
When making the sauce, ensure to whisk it well so that it boils and thickens without forming lumps. Faith Durand from Kitchen notes that mixing warm milk into hot roux will loosen the butter mixture, leading to a lump-free sauce. The secret, according to BigOven, is that when you mix the milk in the hot roux, do it with cold milk otherwise it will become lumpy and lose consistency. Additionally, if using hot milk, wait for the roux to cool down so that you mix hot milk in a cold roux. This composition is important as it makes all the difference in the outcome. Try out your source today with this knowledge and see whether the outcome will remain the same.