Béchamel Sauce

Bechamel sauce

The Spruce 

  • Total: 25 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Servings: 8 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
129 Calories
7g Fat
13g Carbs
4g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 129
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 4g 18%
Cholesterol 15mg 5%
Sodium 251mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 13g 5%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Protein 4g
Calcium 124mg 10%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Béchamel is a basic white sauce and one of the five mother sauces of classical cuisine. That means it's the starting point for making other sauces, like the cheddar cheese sauce, the mornay sauce, cheesy sauce, and several other variations. You can also season it and serve it as-is. Or try making it with bacon or sausage fat for an amazing white gravy.

The reason for using fresh bay leaf as opposed to dried is that it allows you to attach the bay leaf to the onion using the cloves like thumbtacks. A dried bay leaf will tend to crack and crumble if you try this. This is not the end of the world, since you'll be straining the sauce anyway. But since a clove can crack a tooth, it's nice to confirm that the same number come out as went in.

It's traditional to use white pepper to season béchamel because some chefs prefer not to see specks of black pepper in a white sauce. But if you can't find white pepper and/or don't mind specks of pepper in your béchamel, you can use black.

Finally, while clarified butter is ideal for making béchamel, béchamel is not nearly as fussy as hollandaise, so you can make it with ordinary unsalted butter. Just make sure you use a little bit more, because whole butter contains water, while clarified butter doesn't.

1:22

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 30 grams clarified butter (around 2 tablespoons, or 35 grams unsalted butter)
  • 30 grams all-purpose flour (around 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 onion (peeled)
  • 2 to 3 whole cloves
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • Kosher salt (to taste)
  • Ground white pepper (to taste)
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for bechamel sauce
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  2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat, stirring occasionally. You just want it to be warm (around 110 F), not hot, and certainly not boiling.

    Warm milk over medium heat
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  3. Meanwhile, in a separate heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until it has melted.

    Melt butter over heat
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  4. With a wooden spoon, stir the flour into the melted butter a little bit at a time, until it is fully incorporated into the butter, giving you a pale yellow-colored paste called a roux. Heat the roux for another minute or so to cook off the taste of raw flour. As with the milk, you don't want the roux to be too hot. It should be moderately warm but not cold, either.

    Stir mixture to make a roux
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  5. Using a wire whisk, very slowly add the warm milk to the roux, whisking vigorously to make sure it's free of lumps.

    Pour the warmed milk into the roux
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  6. Attach the bay leaf to the onion using the cloves and add them to the sauce.

    Attach bay leaf to onion
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  7. Simmer between 180 and 205 F for about 20 minutes or until the total volume has reduced by about 20 percent, stirring frequently to make sure the sauce doesn't scorch at the bottom of the pan. The resulting sauce should be smooth and velvety. If it's too thick, whisk in a bit more milk until it's just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

    Simmer bechamel
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  8. Remove the sauce from the heat. You can retrieve the clove-stuck onion and discard it now. Carefully pour the sauce through a wire mesh strainer. For an extra smooth consistency, line the strainer with a piece of cheesecloth.

    Remove the sauce from the heat and strain
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  9. Season the sauce very lightly with salt and white pepper. Add a pinch of nutmeg. Be particularly careful with the white pepper and the nutmeg—a little bit goes a long way!

    Season the sauce
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  10. Keep the béchamel covered until you're ready to use it.

    Keep the bechamel covered
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  11. Serve and enjoy!

How to Use

In addition to forming to base of other sauces, béchamel can be used in a variety of dishes: