Cooking 101: Basic White Sauce (Béchamel)
I can still remember walking into my first culinary class and our topic for that day was stocks and sauces. I will admit that was the first time I even thought about what went into making my favorite soups and creamy pasta recipes. Something as simple as that first class opened my eyes to a whole new way of making dishes, with techniques I still use today.
If you ever really read and pay attention to some of your favorite cream pastas and creamy soups you will notice that the one thing they all have in common are equal amounts of butter and flour that are mixed together to create a thickening base known as a roux to give those dishes their texture.
What is a Roux?
Years ago I was so proud of myself to know this term and use it while I was making a dish and show off my new culinary French words. These days most people know what a roux is thanks to Food Network and Cooking Channel. Just in case you don’t know a Roux is a Fat and Flour combination that is cooked together and used to thicken sauces.
A traditional Roux of course uses flour, but this is a no no on a gluten free diet. In some instances people have used a tapioca slurry or cornstarch slurry to thicken sauces, but a roux still creates a sauce that is much nicer. (At least in my opinion.)
How to make a Gluten Free Roux
To make our Roux gluten free, we’ve adopted some of the same techniques from a regular roux with a little tweaking.
Flour: To substitute, we use a gluten free 1:1 flour blend instead of flour. Your blend should be composed of a combination of rice and starches, not beans. Some gluten free All Purpose Blends are made with garbanzo beans which doesn’t work well for the roux and gives the sauce a weird flavor and texture. We’ve used a blend of half white rice and half tapioca with great results.
Ratio: A traditional roux uses half flour, half butter. Gluten Free Flours blends are starch based and as a result once they hit the heat of the melted butter, they tend to thicken faster than regular flour. As such instead of using equal amounts I sometimes use a little less flour to butter. But you can use equal amounts with the same results.
Bechamel: Basic White Sauce
Now that we’ve figured out the Roux basics, it’s time to take that knowledge and create a basic gluten free white sauce or a gluten free bechamel. This sauce is great for making soups creamy, add something extra to your Mac and Cheese.
It uses only 5 ingredients and once you’ve got this sauce down, it can be turned into a cheese sauce or even a mushroom flavored sauce that can be used in recipes like my Mushroom Soup.
Firstly we have to make the Roux.
Once your GF flour and Butter is combined, cook for a minute or two to cook out the flour flavor (just like you would a traditional roux) Then it’s time to add the milk.
A great tip here is to use hot or warm milk when adding to your butter and flour mixture. This gives a smoother sauce and helps prevent the sauce from breaking. (This is when the milk and flour separate and the sauce looks almost curdled.)
Once you’ve added the milk, continue stirring or whisking the sauce until it thickens. Your sauce is thick enough when it coats the back of a spoon and a finger run through leaves a streak. Season with salt and pepper to taste. We also like to add a little nutmeg and dijon mustard to our sauce for some more depth of flavor.
Variation: Cheese Sauce
From this basic béchamel sauce, you can now create an easy cheese sauce that works as a great base for our Macaroni Pie and our Lasagna (recipe now in the works)
To create the cheese sauce, when you’ve reached the step where you’ve tested your sauce and it’s ready, I remove the pan from the heat so that it stops cooking and I add 1 cup of grated cheddar or mozzarella, a teaspoon of garlic powder and then season with salt and pepper. I usually season after adding the cheese as some cheeses may be saltier than others and this helps prevent a salty sauce.
And there you have it, a Gluten Free Bechamel or Gluten Free White Sauce, with an Easy Cheese Variation that can be used in a any of your dishes that requires a white sauce or cheese sauce.