Sauce Béchamel (White Sauce)
From Joy of Cooking (rev. ed.) (Canada, UK), by Irma Von Starkloff Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker.
Named for Louis de Béchamel, a seventeenth-century French financier and courtier, this French sauce is prized for its unassertive character and smooth texture, which make it the ideal agent to thicken and bind a wide range of dishes and to coat many kinds of foods. Make your béchamel a little thicker than you think it should be, because it is easier to thin it out than to thicken it. When combining béchamel sauce with other ingredients, use 1 cup sauce for every 2 cups solids, and use a light hand with the seasoning until you taste the mixture. The sauce can be refrigerated or kept warm in the top of a double boiler. Place a piece of wax paper directly on the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming.
Combine in a small saucepan over very low heat:
1-1/4 cups milk
1/4 onion with 1 bay leaf stuck to it using 2 whole cloves
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Simmer gently for 15 minutes, uncovered, to infuse flavor into the milk. Discard the onion, bay leaf, and cloves.
Meanwhile, melt in a medium, heavy saucepan over low heat:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or spatula, over medium-low heat until the roux is just fragrant but not darkened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Slowly whisk in the warm milk and return the saucepan to the heat. Bring the sauce slowly to a simmer, whisking to prevent lumps, and cook, stirring often and skimming any skin that forms on the surface, over low heat, without boiling, until it reaches the consistency of thick cream soup, 8 to 10 minutes.
Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, if desired. Season with:
Salt and ground white pepper to taste
Use as an ingredient in another recipe or proceed with one of the classical sauce variations or with one of your own inspiration.
Yield: About 1 cup