Bechamel is considered one of the most important sauces of French cuisine but is found in recipes from other cultures as well. A bechamel is a combination of milk, butter, and flour and can be seasoned with onion or other flavorings. The Greek version, besamel (in Greek: μπεσαμέλ, pronounced beh-sah-MEL) includes the addition of egg yolks, which gives the traditionally white sauce a light yellow color.
This is the basic, medium-thick white sauce used in moussaka (a layered eggplant dish), pastitsio (baked pasta with ground meat) and melitzanes papoutsakia (little eggplant shoes). If you would like to change the consistency of the besamel, you can increase the ratio of butter and flour to the milk which will result in a thicker sauce, or use more milk to make a lighter sauce.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Nutmeg to taste
- 1 to 3 egg yolks, beaten with a fork
- In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium-low heat until hot.
- In another saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. As soon as it melts, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until there are no lumps.
- Increase the heat to medium-low and add the hot milk slowly, stirring constantly with a whisk, and continue stirring until the sauce begins to thicken; it should be creamy without being too thick.
- Remove from the heat and stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the egg yolks one at a time, until the desired color is reached, and return to the heat, whisking briskly until well blended. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.
Variations and Storage
- To make a thicker besamel (for use in au gratin recipes, filled pies, and croquettes), increase the butter by 1 tablespoon and the flour by 2 tablespoons. Leave everything else the same.
- To make a thinner besamel (for use as the base for other sauces), cut the butter and flour amounts in half. Leave everything else the same.
- To make double or more cups of besamel, increase all ingredients proportionately except the egg yolks. No more than 3 egg yolks should be used.
- Besamel can be stored in the refrigerator for no more than 1 day. To reheat, use either a double boiler, stirring constantly, or the microwave. For the microwave, cover and vent, and heat on medium power checking every 2 minutes. Microwave heating time will depend on the amount of sauce and the oven's wattage.