The Five Classical French Mother Sauces : Béchamel

The Five Classical French Mother Sauces : Béchamel

The term “mother sauce” refers to any one of five basic sauces, which are the starting points for making various secondary sauces.  The five mother sauces:

  • Béchamel
  • Velouté
  • Espagnole
  • Hollandaise
  • Tomate

Béchamel is by far the easiest and simplest of the five mother sauces.  This is primarily because you do not have to start with a stock.  In its simplest form it is just Flour, Butter and Milk.  Béchamel is traditionally used in such dishes as lasagna, a gratin, soufflés, a soup base, etc.

The simplest form of the sauce requires thickening the milk with a white roux and heating long enough to cook out the flour taste.  More complex versions start with onion, or ham, or mirepoix (onion, carrots, and celery).  I have included a basic version upon which more complex sauces can be built and from which a number of derivative simple sauces are made.

The amount of roux used in the making of your sauce can greatly depend upon what the end use of the sauce will be.  A soufflé for instance would use a quite thick sauce, while a soup use a very thin sauce by comparison.  Here I have presented a sauce which falls squarely in the middle.  Many recipes do not call for heating the milk first, but I prefer this method.  If you do not wish to heat the milk whisk vigorously to prevent lumps as well as a skin.


1 Quart Milk

2 Ounces of Butter

¼ Cup Flour

Salt, Pepper and Nutmeg to taste

Heat the milk to a gentle simmer in a saucepan.  Whisk from time to time to prevent a skin forming on the milk.  In a second saucepan melt the butter and add the flour.  Stir the butter and flour for two minutes over medium heat.  It should have a slightly toasty smell.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Whisk the milk into the roux.  Return to stove and whisk continuously while bringing it back to a simmer.  Once it returns to a slow simmer, reduce the heat.  Cook sauce for 30 minutes to an hour.  Occasionally rub around the bottom of saucepan to prevent from scalding.  A skin will form on the surface which you will need to skim off.

By this time the starchy taste should have cooked out of the sauce.  Taste it.  Season sauce and strain.  Stir Béchamel while it is cooling to prevent the formation of a skin.

Traditionally there are three primary sauces which are directly derived from Béchamel.  These three sauces are Sauce Mornay, Sauce Soubise, and Sauce Crème.

Sauce Mornay

Sauce Mornay (Cheese Sauce) is usually used for the base of a cheese soufflé or gratin.  Classic recipes use half Gruyère and Parmesean.  Today it is often used with many other cheeses.  A combination of two well-aged cheddars works amazingly.  Blue cheeses also work very well, but please choose genuine Roquefort, gorgonzola, stilton, etc.

For Sauce Mornay add four ounces of cheese per quart of Béchamel.  Stir the sauce just long enough for the cheese to melt.

Sauce Soubise

Sauce Soubise is a combination of Béchamel and an onion purée.  It is a wonderful sauce used in all types of gratins.

For Sauce Soubise sweat one pound of white onions.  Do NOT brown.  Combine with two cups of Béchamel.  Cover the sauce and cook it slowly for 30 minutes.  Purée and strain.

Sauce Crème (Cream Sauce)

Cream sauce in modern times has been all but replaced by lightly reduced cream.  Traditionally cream sauce is finished by taking 1 quart of Béchamel with 7 ounces of heavy cream.  Reduce the mixture to three-quarters.  Add an additional 5 ounces of heavy cream.  This should bring it to the right consistency.

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