The thickness of the white sauce depends on the dish you're making. Cream soups call for a thin white sauce; a medium one is typically used in casseroles, or in a gravy. Thick and heavy white sauces are generally found in soufflé and croquette batters.
Here are the steps for a basic medium white sauce, along with several popular variations and instructions for all the thickness levels you'll need.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Dash freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup milk (or half-and-half)
- Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat.
- Whisk the flour into the melted butter.
- Add the salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Cook over low heat, stirring, for at least 2 minutes to minimize "flour" taste.
- Slowly add 1 cup of milk, stirring constantly.
- Continue cooking slowly until smooth and thickened.
- To make the standard béchamel sauce: Add the milk to the medium white sauce recipe alongside 1 small onion studded with 3 cloves, a bay leaf, and a grating of nutmeg.
- Light stock, cream, or a combination may be used in place of the milk (see the variations below).
- Add more flavor by seasoning with celery salt, nutmeg, a teaspoon of lemon juice, onion juice, or sherry, or a few tablespoons of chopped chives or parsley.
- Thin White Sauce: Use 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of flour.
- Medium White Sauce: Use 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of flour.
- Heavy White Sauce: Use 4 tablespoons of butter and 4 tablespoons of butter.
- Cheese Sauce for Vegetables: Add 1/2 to 1 cup of shredded cheese to the sauce as soon as you take it off the burner. Stir until the cheese has melted. Use this version in a casserole, drizzle it over vegetables, or toss it with pasta or rice.
- Cheddar Sauce for Macaroni and Cheese: Double a recipe for medium white sauce; add 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard powder along with the salt and pepper. Add 2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Cook 2 cups of elbow macaroni following the package directions; drain well and combine with the cheese sauce.
- Velouté Sauce: Instead of milk, this sauce is made with stock or broth. Use chicken, beef, fish stock, or use vegetable broth. Depending on the kind of stock or broth you use, this is a good sauce to serve with chicken, beef, fish, and seafood, or vegetables.
- Cream Sauce: Add a few tablespoons of heavy cream to the sauce just before it's done.
- Herb Sauce: Add about 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil, chives, or dill to the sauce a few minutes before it's done. Or add about 1 teaspoon of fresh herbs.