Classic white sauce
White sauce (béchamel) is a handy sauce commonly used in fish pies, moussaka and lasagne or served with vegetables like cauliflower or leeks. Made well, it's delicious and can form the base of many meals.
- In a saucepan, place the milk, bay leaf, and the onion with the clove stuck into it. Heat to allow flavours to infuse but do not boil. Remove to cool, then strain to remove infusions.
- Melt butter in a clean saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in flour until blended - this forms what is called a roux. Cook the roux over a medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Gradually add the milk to the roux, whisking continuously to form a smooth mixture. Bring to the boil, stirring as the sauce thickens.
- Simmer very gently for 10 minutes to cook the sauce, stirring regularly to prevent sticking. Season sauce with salt and white pepper to taste. Makes 2 cups.
Cheese: add grated cheese, off the heat, to the finished sauce. Don't boil again after adding cheese as sauce may curdle. Herbs - add chopped fresh herbs to the finished sauce. Try parsley alone or a variety of Italian-style herbs such as oregano, rosemary and thyme.
Onion: soften onion in the butter before adding the flour, then complete remaining steps.
Curry: add curry powder to taste when adding the flour. Adding spices at this stage will allow them to toast a little and this will bring out their flavours.
Tip: To obtain a smooth consistency, the flour is best stirred in off the heat.
Tip: Cooking the white sauce well (step 4) removes the raw-flour taste and produces a velvety-textured sauce.
Tip: It is best to use white pepper in white sauce, as black pepper makes the sauce look dirty.
Tip: This recipe produces a thick sauce. If a more flowing sauce is required, simply increase the amount of milk and this will thin the sauce.