Friday, February 9, 2007

The Dreaded Bechamel

A few days ago, someone posted in my comments about how they could not make a bechamel. That rose a flag for me, because although it sounds impressive and difficult, making a bechamel
is simply a matter of stirring the pot. Literally. Bechamel sauce can be the foundation for a multitude of dishes, including but not limiting to: pot pie, biscuits and gravy, cream soups, SOS, eggs goldenrod, macaroni and cheese, and any number of fish dishes with accompanying sauce. And just as the number of dishes and meals you can make with a very economical bechamel, the variations of the actual bechamel are just as numerous. So here are the basics:

You begin with melted or rendered fat. The fat you use is your preference, and may be dictated by the desired dish. Sausage gravy begins with sausage fat. Macaroni and cheese can begin with butter or olive oil. Pot pie works best with butter or margarine to start, you get the idea. Next, you take an amount of flour equal to the amount of fat. 2 tablespoons of butter = 2 tablespoons of flour. You cook these two together in a saucepan or pot for 1 minute to cook the flour, and then add milk slowly, (for 2 tablespoons of fat, I use about 1 1/2 cups milk). The make or break point in bechamel is after you add your milk. You must stir continuously, or the flour will scorch to the bottom of the pan. The easy solution is to plan a few minutes to be at your stove stirring constantly. Once your sauce has thickened and is bubbling, you can reduce it to a simmer and add your salt, pepper, and other seasonings. Then you can walk away and prepare other things, stirring occasionally to keep a skin from forming on the top. And that is your basic bechamel.

This can be changed in so many ways... you can simmer herbs and spices, onions and garlic in your milk before adding it to your pot. A true bechamel begins with onions and bay leaf infused milk, but I prefer a blank canvas to build upon. To make macaroni and cheese you simply add a bit of powdered mustard and 2 cups of shredded cheese to your sauce. Mix with macaroni and bake until golden brown. To make pot pie, add thawed frozen vegetables and pre-cooked shredded chicken to bechamel for an instant filling. You can change the bechamel... Add some tomato paste and you have Sauce Aurore. The cheese sauce is also known as a Mornay- and is excellent with eggs as well as macaroni. Add curry powder for a curry sauce.

Once you have mastered this basic technique, the possibilities just go on and on. You can start changing your fat preferences, you can shy away from milk and use a light chicken or fish stock for a Veloute. Add a bit of cream to that stock, and you have a cream sauce worthy of a Michelin-starred chef. Dishes from other cuisines are based on a bechamel. Make a Creole sauce by taking your butter and flour, and browning them a bit to make a fantastic roux for your gumbo or crawfish ettouffe.

As for me and my favorite way to use a bechamel? Biscuits and sausage gravy ranks right at the top. Oh so bad for you, but soooo worth a once in a while breakfast.

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