The Revealing, Secret Diaries of a Not-So-Secret Foodie

Béchamel

In Family, Food, Photography, Writing on September 17, 2013 at 8:25 am

My Dad introduced me to my first Béchamel.  Growing up it was his signature lunch special, one that he’d prepare for us on weekends. His technique was not precise and often prepared in a too small a saucepan. But it always worked and made our house smell warm with garlic.  More times than not and when I wasn’t looking, he’d toss in some minced clams.  It wasn’t until many meals later that I learned the little lumps in his white sauce weren’t a technical error.  Rather a culinary decision.  The man liked his linguine and white sauce WITH clams.

My father does not know French nor is he a chef.  I am certain he has never used the word Béchamel.  Funny thing is that those lumps or more accurately, clams in disguise, led to my life long collecting of cookbooks.  Always a bookworm, I began rummaging through piles of my mom’s cookbooks. Page after page turned, looking for clues.  My own little investigation as to where and how we had gone wrong with our sauce.

Right there in the index, neatly categorized under the letter W, my answers awaited.  I only needed to turn to page four hundred and forty-nine in the red and white plaid covered book.  It was so straightforward, a real science.    Life may not have come with complete instructions for success but this sauce did.  Thick-bottomed pan.  Check.  Wire Whisk.  Check.  I can do this.  And I did, many times, until I got it just right.  And just like that my Dad’s sense of adventure, culinary and otherwise, stirred within me.

Maybe that Béchamel was only a part of it. My Dad traveled on business, gone most of the week.  But when he returned, he walked in the door with stories.  Tales of people, far off places and of course the restaurants he’d visited and the dishes for which they were known.  And then there were the souvenirs.

Thin crust pizza direct from New York City.  Not just hand-tossed, but hand-carried.  Two taxis and one autobus later, delivered to our door, cold but intact. An important life lesson tucked in there, somewhere in that smashed up box. Balanced above his head, suitcases still in hand.   Chopsticks wrapped in postcards of the Great Wall packed in his briefcase and transported via the red-eye from Shanghai.  Ever girl needed her own pair.  You never knew when you’d find yourself with a bowl of noodles and no fork would do.  And those over-sized piñatas stuffed full of the sweetness of Mexico.  How did he get them to fit in a carry-on?  Who knows?  But what I did know was that no matter how far he traveled, he was only a plane ride away.  And I felt that although he might be miles away, his heart never really left home.

Many years have passed.  I have my own family.  I have my own kitchen.  But recently I had the opportunity to cook with my Dad again.  Portabellas were on special and I had a new creamed soup recipe to share with him.  Imagine my delight when he pulled out a tiny saucepan…

Making a Béchamel Sauce:  Above two tablespoons of butter are melted over medium heat in small saucepan. Next three tablespoons of flour are added and mixed together until roux is formed. Roux is cooked over medium heat for a few minutes to develop the flavor.  Next one cup milk is added. Mixture is whisked together over medium heat with constant stirring for three to five minutes until mixture is creamy and thick enough to easily coat wire whisk.


A roux is a mixture of fat and flour used to thicken soups and sauces.  It is used when making a Béchamel Sauce, also known as white sauce. A traditional French Béchamel is made with butter, flour and milk.  That’s it.  It’s easy to make and a great one to know.

Many soups and sauces are just slight variations of the Béchamel.  For that reason, it’s known as the “mother sauce”.  Add a little garlic and grated parmesan and presto a quick meal when served over linguine.  Or, toss in some grated Cheddar or Gruyere and voila, a velvety cheese sauce.  Folded into a simple soup and it’s elevated to a creamy bowl of comfort. In Italy, they even have their own twist on the Béchamel stirring in a pinch of nutmeg.

Although there are lots of ways to thicken a soup or make a sauce there is something so– well so wonderful, about making your own Béchamel.  Taking three basic staples.  Heating them.   Stir, stir, stirring them.  Waiting.  Watching.  And then, well like magic, transformed into a silky smooth sauce.

Cookbooks on My Shelf

Julia Child’s discussion of sauce Béchamel and enrichments is a cook’s delight.  Anyone wanting to learn from the best can find it in Chapter 2, Sauces, of her well-loved book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I also really enjoy the cautionary tale of the Béchamel and the quick fixes that Lidia Bastianich offers in her award-winning cookbook, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen.  She dedicates a page, to the Salsa Besciamella.  Her version of the white sauce used in Italy uses a good measure of freshly grated nutmeg, something I love and always have on hand. And like my father’s sauce hers incorporates a healthy amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

And my nostalgic red and white plaid reference for all time:  Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. A housewarming gift from my mom from within whose pages and illustrations unlocked the secrets of a lump-free white sauce.

© suebthefoodie.com, 2011-2013.

  1. What a lovely post! Thanks for sharing! :0)

  2. Wow your boys are sure lucky to have you as their mommy…I am waiting for you to open up a restaurant some day! XOXO

    Sent from my iPhone

    • I’m so lucky to have them ;). Thank you for leaving a comment for me to enjoy today! I know that you are a fantastic cook. I keep hearing about one of your soups.
      -Cheers

  3. SueB…you, your thoughts, and certainly your cooking are amazing! I so enjoy all of it! j;)

  4. Great photos and great story!

    • Thank you for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment and like for me to enjoy! -Cheers

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