The French may be credited with developing the sophisticated art of sauce making, but the midcentury rise of canned soup gave homemade sauces a reputation for fussy and dated cooking. Today, millions of baby boomers have fond memories of dishes — green bean casserole and chicken supreme among them — that sidetracked homemade sauce altogether.
A standard white sauce, or béchamel, is not only versatile, but gives home cooks better control over salt, fats and other ingredients. It binds macaroni and cheese, chicken tettrazini and lasagna, and is the foundation for savory soufflés and cream soups.
It begins with a roux, or flour whisked into melted butter and cooked until thick and smooth. The traditional roux ratio of butter to flour is 1:1, but adding more flour can amp up the thickening power with less fat. (For wheat-free alternatives, substitute potato flour or rice flour.)
How to Make Four Creamy Classic Sauces
1. Béchamel Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups milk*
Heat butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.
Add flour and whisk until smooth. Cook 3 minutes to remove floury taste.
Add 1/2 cup milk, whisking vigorously until thickened. Add remaining milk, whisking well until smooth. Cook 5 minutes until sauce is bubbly and thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
*While any kind of milk can be used, the higher the milk fat content, the richer the sauce. My standard is 2% reduced-fat milk.
2. Mornay Sauce
This classic sauce is used in scalloped potatoes, over vegetables and in the Hot Brown sandwich. When sauce is thickened, add 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese and 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano to pan. With a spoon, stir just until melted.
3. Veloute Sauce
A basic sauce used as a springboard for many other sauces, veloute frequently forms the base of soups. Using chicken or vegetable stock in place of milk, proceed as directed in béchamel sauce.
Use a slurry to thicken soups, chili and stews when you want to avoid the fat in a traditional béchamel. It works great when you just need to thicken something and not necessarily form the base of a dish. Combine cold milk and flour. The ratio needn’t be precise, but 2 tablespoons flour to 1/2 cup cold milk typically thickens a pot of soup. Cold milk and flour tend to lump, so stir thoroughly to ensure all the flour is dissolved in the milk.
Mexican Chicken Casserole
Recipe by Jill Melton, MS, RD
Photo by Tyllie Barbosa
The white sauce binds the corn tortillas, chicken and cheese into a creamy casserole everyone will love.
5 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
3 cups shredded cooked chicken
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
8 ounces Mexican melting cheese (whole-milk mozzarella) or Monterey Jack, grated
6 to 8 corn tortillas
Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add flour, cumin, salt and pepper. Whisk well until smooth. Cook 2 minutes.
- Gradually add milk, whisking constantly until smooth. Cook until thickened, about 3 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, combine chicken, tomatoes, green onions and cilantro.
- Place a small amount of white sauce in bottom of 2-quart casserole or souffle dish. Place approximately two corn tortillas in dish, tearing into pieces to fit corners, to form a layer. Top with some sauce, half the chicken mixture and one-third the grated cheese.
- Repeat one more layer, ending with tortillas, white sauce and cheese. Cover and bake 30 minutes.
- Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer or until browned and bubbly.
Serves 8, serving size 1 1⁄3 cup
Total fat: 17g; Sat. fat: 10g
Chol.: 75mg; Sodium: 363mg
Carb.: 18g; Fiber: 2g; Sugars: 5g
Protein 21g; Potassium 328mg; Phosphorous 314mg
Company Seafood Lasagna
Recipe by Jill Melton, MS, RD
Inspired by author Anne Willan, this dish uses a bechamel sauce made with milk infused with onion, bay leaf and peppercorns instead of marinara sauce. It’s rich, delicate and français all the way. Perfect for entertaining!
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 shallots, diced
2 ounces country ham, diced
1 pound bay scallops or small shrimp
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups whole milk
1 small onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2⁄3 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
12 ounces white fish such as tilapia, grouper or flounder
12 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente
4 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
2 ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet, add shallots and ham, and sauté 5 minutes.
- Add scallops and mushrooms; cook 5 minutes.
- Add wine; cook 10 minutes.
- Place milk in saucepan. Add onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. Simmer 10 minutes. Let stand. Strain.
- Melt remaining butter in saucepan. Add flour, whisking well; cook 3 minutes.
- Add strained milk mixture; cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Add cream, tomatoes and parsley.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Spread some sauce in bottom of lasagna pan. Place 4 noodles on top. Top with all of fish filets to cover most of noodles. Top with half the remaining sauce. Top with 4 noodles, scallop mixture and half the gruyere cheese. Top with remaining noodles, remaining white sauce, remaining gruyere and Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes or until bubbly.
- Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer or until top is golden. Serve with a pile of arugula greens.
Serves 9, serving size 1 cup
Total fat 22g; Sat. fat 13g
Chol. 101mg; Sodium 625mg
Carb. 39g; Fiber 3g; Sugars 5g
Protein 32g; Potassium 561mg; Phosphorous 515mg