Béchamel sauce

Béchamel sauce

Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery
375 ml

The French call béchamel sauce a sauce mère or mother sauce because it is the basic white sauce from which so many others are made. It can be made as a flowing sauce, to serve as a separate accompaniment or as a base for cream soups. Made thicker, it becomes a coating sauce to cover food in the dish in which it is to be served (for instance, in mornay or creamed dishes). Thicker still, it is called a panada and is used for soufflés, croquettes, etc.


Quantity Ingredient
250ml milk
1/2 bay leaf
1 slice onion
5 black peppercorns
1 small piece celery
1 blade mace
30g butter
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
freshly ground white pepper


  1. Heat milk with bay leaf, onion, peppercorns, celery and mace in a small heavy saucepan until bubbles form around edge. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Strain and reserve.
  2. Wipe out saucepan. Melt butter in it. Stir in flour. Stir over low heat for 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool a little, then add strained milk and stir until smooth. Return to medium heat and stir constantly until boiling. Lower heat and cook very gently for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.


  • This recipe makes a coating sauce – the right consistency for covering food in the dish in which it is to be served. For a flowing sauce to be served separately, follow the recipe but use only 1 tablespoon flour. For panada thickness (used to bind croquettes and as a soufflé base), follow the recipe but use 3 tablespoons flour.


  • Mornay (cheese) sauce: To 1 quantity béchamel sauce, add 30 g grated parmesan, gruyère or sharp cheddar cheese and a pinch dry mustard. Stir over low heat just until cheese has melted. Use to coat fish, vegetables, chicken or eggs. To make a dish into a gratin, pour sauce over and place under a preheated hot grill or in a hot oven until top is golden brown (sprinkle first with a little more cheese and/or breadcrumbs tossed in butter if you wish).

    Cream sauce: To 1 quantity séchamel sauce, add 2 tablespoons cream. Bring to the boil, then add a few drops lemon juice. Use for food that is served creamed – eggs, chicken, vegetables, veal.

    Caper sauce: To 1 quantity cream sauce add 1½ tablespoons capers and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Serve with hot ox tongue, lamb tongue and grilled or poached fish.

    Curry cream sauce: Fry 1 finely chopped onion in 1 tablespoon butter. Add 1 tablespoon curry powder and fry, stirring, for 1 minute. Add to 1 quantity cream sauce and simmer gently for 5–10 minutes. A little shredded or desiccated coconut may be fried with the curry powder if desired. Adjust seasoning, adding a few extra drops lemon juice if necessary. Serve on hard-boiled eggs or mix with 265 g chopped cooked chicken, turkey or lamb or 1 × 440 g tin salmon or tuna, and reheat.

    Parsley sauce: To 1 quantity béchamel sauce, add 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley and a few drops lemon juice. Serve on boiled potatoes or with tripe, tongue, poached chicken or fish.

    Mustard sauce: To 1 quantity béchamel sauce, add 2 teaspoons dry mustard blended with 1 teaspoon vinegar, or 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Serve with boiled meats such as corned beef or with hot poached Continental sausage such as rookwurst.

    Onion sauce: Boil 4 finely chopped white onions in water to cover until tender. Drain and stir into 1 quantity béchamel sauce. Stir in 1 teaspoon cream and heat gently. Sliced hard-boiled eggs, coated with this sauce and sprinkled with parsley, become oeufs à la tripe, a breakfast or lunch dish. Use also with corned beef and other boiled meats.

    White or melted butter sauce: Make béchamel sauce without flavouring the milk first. White sauce can be nice on foods with pronounced flavour such as cauliflower or smoked fish, and can be used as the base for mornay, onion and other well-flavoured sauces. For more delicately flavoured foods or as the base for sauces such as cream sauce or parsley sauce, béchamel is better.
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