It's an ideal accompaniment for eggs (eggs Mornay, a variation on eggs Benedict made with Mornay sauce in place of the usual hollandaise, is a French classic) as well as pasta and vegetables.
You also might like to take a look at the five mother sauces of classical French cuisine (béchamel is one of them).
- 3 tablespoons butter (not margarine or a blend), divided
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 3/4 cups whole milk (warm but not hot), divided
- 2 to 3 whole cloves
- 1/4 onion, peeled
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 ounces grated Gruyère cheese
- 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat, then stir in the flour to form a roux. Cook the roux for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently until most of the water has cooked out (it'll bubble less), which also allows the raw flour taste to cook off.
- Slowly add 2 1/2 cups of the milk while whisking or stirring constantly so that the liquid is incorporated into the roux without forming lumps.
- Stick the cloves into the onion and add to the sauce along with the bay leaf. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until it's reduced by about 20 percent.
- Remove the bay leaf and the onion, strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer or a colander lined with cheesecloth. Make sure you retrieve as many whole cloves as you originally added.
- Return the sauce to the pan. Add the Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses and stir until the cheese has melted.
- Remove from heat, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and adjust consistency with some or all of the remaining 1/2 cup milk if necessary. Serve right away.
Mornay Sauce Variations
In classical cuisine, there were variations on the Mornay where instead of making it with a béchamel base as done here, it is made with chicken or fish stock—making it a variation on the velouté sauce instead.
This makes sense if you're serving the finished sauce with chicken or fish or seafood. Indeed, some people might find the standard Mornay sauce to be a bit rich for fish and seafood (then again, see lobster Mornay).
In the classic French tradition, you cannot have too much cream, butter, or cheese. On the other hand, in Italian cooking, it's considered an abomination to serve fish with cheese. And so it goes. Maybe someone can get a French chef and an Italian chef to sit down and decide whose cuisine is superior. They can get back to us in a couple of centuries maybe.
In the meantime, feel free to serve this basic Mornay sauce with chicken and fish but do experiment with the chicken and/or fish velouté versions if you like. You might find that the lighter velouté version works better in some situations.