Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Béchamel Sauce, Roux's & Homemade Mac and Cheese

Bechamel Sauce: Another staple in the food world that has been bestowed upon us courtesy of the French.  Bechamel sauce is also known as the "white sauce".  It has many applications as well as being a starting point for many other sauces, such as Mornay sauce (aka cheese sauce- yea another tidbit to impress your friends).  This is why I thought to first blog this recipe, because tonight along side some honey mustard marinated chicken, I am going to make some homemade mac and cheese.  Yea I have some in the box, but honestly it really is so easy to make from scratch and it looks super impressive- so why not try it out yourself? AND you are not limited to just that wierd orange "cheese" flavor- you can add any cheese (or combination of cheeses) that you like. Not fond of cheddar?- try fontina or gruyere.  This is a technique/recipe every half decent cook should know.

(By the way if you really feel the need to know more about Bechamel sauce you can always Wikipedia it)

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • salt, pepper and nutmeg
(You will probably find many different measurements for these couple ingredients, but these are the ingredients that make up the sauce- sometimes I need to use a little more butter, sometimes I need a little more flour- the end result (consistency) of the sauce is what's important)

  1.  Melt the butter on low to medium heat in a sauce pan.  We don't want it bubbling away, just enough heat to melt it. 
  2. When the butter is completely melted add the flour and whisk until completely incorporated.  This is what we call a roux (roo or rue), it just means a mixture of butter and flour.  This is another staple in the kitchen- you use a lot for everything from soup to gravy- it just helps thicken things up.  It should look like a sticky paste- almost balls or clumps of floury butter mixture- sometimes it isn't as thick- don't worry it will work just the same.
(This sauce looks a bit clumpy- its because I added half a white onion to the butter first, sauteed for a few mins, then added the flour- not traditional but that is just one simple way to just give it a bit more flavor and customize it to your liking)

3.  Continue to cook the roux for 1 to 3 minutes or so- we want to cook out the flour taste, plus slightly brown the roux to develop the nutty flavors. 

4.  Now we add the milk- SLOWLY! Adding it slowly will help reduce the amount of lumps and make the sauce come together nicely- and you should be whisking it in constantly until all the milk is in the pan.

5. Bring the sauce to a light simmer- the sauce should appear to be thickening- you can test the thickness by dipping a spoon in the sauce and seeing if it coats the back of the spoon- when it does that- it's ready.

6.  Turn off the heat and add your seasonings. A couple grates of fresh nutmeg (if you don't have fresh, I would use a very small pinch of dried), a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of fresh black pepper.

Everyone has their own opinion and method to make this sauce- keep trying it out until you have mastered your own!  You can also flavor this sauce however you want- it has endless applications- you can put it over veggies (try mixing a bit of cheese into the sauce-awesome over veggies), chicken, steak, etc.  It is also classically used in lasagna.

Homemade Mac & Cheese

-All ingredients for the bechamel sauce, 1/2 lb of pasta, 1-2 cups of cheese
  • Make the bechamel just like before- but at the very end melt in about a cup to two cups of the cheese of your choice.
  • In another pot- bring some water to a boil and salt it- add 1/2lb (aka half a box-8oz) of any short cut pasta you like- I love to go with the classic elbows- but wheels, penne, rotini, gemelli, etc will do.  You can even use the pasta in the boxed mac and cheese and just throw away the cheesey powder packet.  Using the store brand mac and cheese pasta is usually a good deal.  When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the cheese sauce.  Combine completely.
  • Now from here we can do one of two things: either just eat as is (which I did in the above pic), OR we can put the mac and cheese in a baking dish and top with extra cheese (and breadcrumbs too if you want) and pop under the broiler for a couple minutes to melt the cheese and let it get brown on top- then enjoy!

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