This is such an essential ingredient in many dishes, yet people are often scared to make it in case it goes wrong. Here’s the thing: Yes, it can go wrong and, until you’ve done it a few times, is likely to go wrong on you on a number of occasions (it certainly did for me!), but it’s through those times when it goes wrong that you learn how to correct it and what mistakes not to repeat.
I will create a video recipe for this asap, but in the meantime wanted to post the basic recipe as I am using it in my Indulgent Fish Pie.
For enough Béchamel for a Fish Pie for 6 people, you will need:
- 30g butter
- 750ml semi-skimmed milk (for a richer, less health-conscious and more indulgent sauce, you can use a mixture of milk and single or even double cream, or use whole milk instead of semi-skimmed)
- 4tbsp plain white flour
- salt to taste
- (with the exception of Béchamel for Fish Pie, I usually also add a little bit of freshly-grated nutmeg)
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour & mix well over a low heat so you end up with a roux (a soft dough-like ball of flour & butter).
- Take off the heat and add a tiny bit of milk (traditionalists would say to always pre-heat the milk, though I’ve found that it works equally well with cold milk), mix this into the roux and only add a bit more milk at a time once the previous milk has been fully amalgamated into the roux.
- Gradually as you keep doing this, you will find that the roux starts to become more of a paste and then gradually begin to resemble a sauce.
- If you’re using cold milk, return the pan to a very low heat as soon as the roux becomes more of a paste, but ensure you stir continuously, even while adding more milk. This is the key – do not stop stirring!
- (Tip: If the sauce goes lumpy at this stage, stop adding milk and keep stirring over a low heat until it has thickened to a homogenous paste again, then start adding milk a tiny bit at a time again.)
- As soon as the mix is thin and ‘sauce-like’ enough to do so, start using a whisk instead of a wooden spoon/spatula to stir, as this will reduce the chances of lumps, but make sure you stir continuously and that you’re not whisking/beating the sauce but rather using the whisk in controlled movements, ensuring you constantly move the entire saucepan contents, especially paying attention to the base, so that no sauce has a chance to thicken up more at the bottom, thus forming lumps.
- Once you have added all the milk, keep stirring continuously and, as the mixture heats up, you will find it starts to thicken.
- Add salt to taste, and nutmeg (unless you’re using the Béchamel for a fish pie)
These quantities will give you a rich, velvety Béchamel that is quite thick. For thinner Béchamel, use less flour & butter (or more milk if you need more sauce), for thicker Béchamel, use more flour & butter.