How To Make a Basic White Sauce

Basic White Sauce (Bechamel)
Basic White Sauce. Philippe Desnerck/Photolibrary/Getty

White sauce, also known as Béchamel, is used in a variety of dishes and is the base for many sauces. 

The thickness of the white sauce depends on the dish you are making. A thin white sauce is used in cream soups; a medium white sauce is typically used in casseroles and as a sauce or gravy. Thick and heavy white sauces are used in souffle and croquette mixtures.

Here are the steps for a basic thin, medium, thick, or heavy white sauce with some popular variations.

What You Need

Thin White Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • dash freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup milk or half-and-half

Medium White Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • dash freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup milk or half-and-half

Thick White Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • dash freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup milk or half-and-half

Heavy White Sauce

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • dash freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup milk or half-and-half

How to Make It

  1. In a small, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.
  2. Blend the flour into the melted butter.
  3. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a dash of freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Cook over low heat, stirring, for at least 2 minutes to minimize 'flour' taste.
  5. Slowly add 1 cup of milk, stirring constantly.
  1. Continue cooking slowly until smooth and thickened.

Tips

  • To make the standard Béchamel sauce, after adding the milk to the medium white sauce recipe add 1 small onion studded with 3 cloves, a bay leaf, and a grating of nutmeg.
  • Light stock, cream, or a combination may be used in place of the milk (see the variations, below).
  • Add more flavor by seasoning with celery salt, nutmeg, a teaspoon of lemon juice, onion juice, or sherry, or a few tablespoons of chopped chives or parsley.

Variations

  • Cheese Sauce: Add 1/2 to 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese to the sauce as soon as you take it off the burner. Stir until the cheese has melted. Toss with pasta, add it to casseroles, or serve over vegetables.
  • Veloute Sauce: Instead of milk, this sauce is made with stock or broth. Use chicken, beef, or fish stock, or use vegetable broth. Depending on the kind of stock or broth you use, this is a good sauce to serve with chicken, beef, fish, and seafood, or vegetables.
  • Cream Sauce: Add a few tablespoons of heavy cream to the sauce just before it's done.
  • Herb Sauce: Add about 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil, chives, or dill to the sauce a few minutes before it's done. Or add about 1 teaspoon of fresh herbs.