Friday, June 3, 2011

Hard to Easy

We started last post with a Hollandaise, which is one of the harder mother sauces to master.  So, today's mother sauce should really be a piece of cake.  Like so super simple that if you mess it up, you should stop trying to cook right now*.  A simple comparison should suffice.  

When I first started driving, I was truly an awful driver,  I regularly ran the tire of the car up onto the curb, slammed on the brakes/didn't hit the brakes hard enough, and parking was just...forget it.  Then, my grandfather added driving a stick shift into the mix - I only got worse, once almost crashing into my grandmother's car in a terrific way because I was excited that I managed to get the truck into gear in reverse. Nightmarish.  However, one day I got driving a stick shift down, didn't send my grandfather's truck shuddering and clunking out of every stop sign, didn't roll back 5 feet on every hill, didn't ramp the truck up on grassy embankments when trying to do a K-turn - I got it.  Then, I suddenly became a great driver.  Everything else was measured from that point on in terms of getting the hang of a standard transmission.  Get the Hollandaise down and all of the other mother sauces will be measured in terms of it.  None of this 'gradual increase in difficulty' bullshit.  Do the Hollandaise first.

In any case, today's mother sauce is the ubiquitous Béchamel, aka 'white sauce.'  No cook should be without the means and knowledge to whip up a quick, delicious Béchamel on a moments notice.  It has many uses and all add complexity to dishes.

Standard-shift Béchamel 
- Equal parts butter and flour
- Milk (whole or cream)**
- Seasonings (creative but restrained)***
Your Ratio for the butter/flour mix (aka a roux, we'll talk later) and milk should be something like 5:1.  Not to be a pedant, but that might mean, for example, 1/2 cup of roux (so 1/4 cup flour to 1/4 cup butter) to 2.5 cups of milk or cream.

Start by angrily scalding your milk or cream.  So many recipes call for such gentleness and nicety when dealing with your dairy - here is one time that you can really get some stuff out and just boil your milk or cream.  Don't get out of control, if you burn your milk or cream to the bottom of your pot, cleaning will certainly remind you of the need for some moderation, even when angry.  Let it calm down a bit off the heat while you turn to your roux.

A roux is in very basic terms, flour and fat.  You can make it with butter, or lard, or tallow, or even a rancid vegetable oil.  For a nice Béchamel, use butter.  Start by melting your quantity of butter  over a gentle heat in a saucepan large enough to hold all your milk, wait until the foam subsides, and gently sprinkle your flour over the butter, stirring intentionally with your other hand.  Be sure that the butter and flour really meet one another, you may start with a creamy kind of consistency, but you should soon have a grainy look that indicates that your flour and butter have met fully.  Your roux should remain light in color, don't allow it to brown a bit for Béchamel.

Now, kick your heat back to a low level, and add your scalded milk, one ladle at a time, whisking (the whisk is ubiquitous!) between each to be sure that the sauce stays smooth.  Once all of your milk or cream is added, continue whisking, keeping an eye on things to be sure that the sauce thickens, but not too much****.  Give your sauce a taste, and season as is needed.  

So, as you might notice, many recipes call for a Béchamel sauce, but they usually don't call it such.  On my good friend Margaret's blog, she has a recipe for Kohlrabi that looks as if it will really take the edge off, leaving you in the kind of chirpy state that everyone strives for (click here to see!).  Note her recipe - butter, flour, milk...Béchamel!  

 - Mornay: Add some cheese (something gloppy and melty like Gruyére) once the sauce has thickened.
- Aurore: Add some tomato purée at the end.
- Nantua: Add crayfish tails and a touch of fish sauce or splash of fish stock.
- Soubise: Add some finely diced onions to the boiling milk.
- Béchamel is often used over things like white lasagna or slathered on crêpes, be creative and unrestrained!

* Harsh, right?

** Don't even bother with anything less than whole milk.  Gross.

*** A lot of traditionalists insist on adding an onion stuck with a clove and a bay leaf to the boiling milk.  This is way too fussy and is a pain when you are later ladling the milk out.  Do what thou wilt.

**** Thickness is a bit subjective.  There is a range somewhere between a thin gruel and wallpaper paste/caulk that you should strive for, depending on your preference. If things get a bit thick and heavy, add some more cream and see what that does for you. Do what thou wilt.

1 comment:

  1. I love it! Bechamel sounds so much more sophisticated than "thick sauce" which is what I believe I called it in my blog post. Not knowing what I was making at the time, it seemed unlikely that such simple ingredients could render such a thick, creamy, wonderful sauce. I was pleasantly surprised. Thanks for the post!