Béchamel, the Queen of Sauces
Perhaps you’ve heard that French cuisine is the finest on the planet. People might have thought that way half a century ago, but things have changed. Celebrating international cuisines and understanding they’re all part of a greater global food repertoire has led us to a new gastronomic golden era.
We can’t deny, though, that the great French chefs of the past set the standards for culinary excellence, still valid today. Everything from the brigade system to table service can be attributed to the great French cuisine of the past.
One of the most valuable culinary French heirlooms we enjoy today are the mother sauces, and amongst them, the mythical white sauce, the Béchamel Sauce.
The History Behind The Mother Sauces
The Chef Marie Antoine Carême was a practitioner and advocate of the late 18th-century and early 19th-century gastronomic movement now remembered as the Grande Cuisine — cooking as an art form.
Chef Carême is credited for standardizing the famous toque, or chef’s hat, but also classified sauces with an almost scientific approach, naming the first Mother Sauces: the Espagnole, Velouté, Allemande and Béchamel.
Chef Auguste Escoffier took Carême’s work further into the 20th century with his workbook and cookbook Le Guide Culinaire. The rest, as they say, is history.
The mother sauces began a food revolution that decades later sparked a counter-revolution, the Nouvelle Cuisine, which is the base for all modern culinary techniques and western cuisines.
How To Make The Perfect Béchamel
A perfect Béchamel starts with a roux. So, what is a roux? This uncomplicated sauce starter and thickener begins with equal parts of flour and fat, more often than not butter, incorporated over low heat until smooth; all lumps must be taken care of at this stage.
At the same time, milk is heated in a separate saucepan and gradually added to the roux at a ratio of 5 to 1. 500ml of milk for 100ml of roux (50gr butter, 50gr flour).
NOTE: The milk is often aromatized beforehand with bay leaves, onions, and/or cloves.
The result is the famous white sauce, the queen of sauces —Béchamel.
Sauce Variations To Take Béchamel To New Levels
Mother sauces have earned their name for their ability to become more elaborate and flavorful with the addition of other ingredients. Here are a few of Béchamel’s most significant daughter sauces.
Mornay sauce – If you’ve ever enjoyed a proper bowl of mac & cheese, you already know the Mornay sauce. Grated Cheddar cheese, or a mixture of Cheddar, Gruyère and Emmental, are added for a luscious sauce with all the virtues of Béchamel infused with high-quality cheese.
Soubise Sauce – A creamy Bechamel incorporated with butter-sautéed onions makes for an aromatic sauce that’s gorgeous over vegetables, chicken or fish. The secret is sautéing the onions in butter until translucent and blending them into a purée before adding them to a classic Béchamel.
There’s More Where This Came From
Béchamel is only one of the French mother sauces together with its stablemates Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise and the Tomato sauce. The mother sauces helped French chefs set the norms for fine-dining and Haut Cuisine to inspire the new generations of top chefs worldwide.
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