Step-by-Step: How to Make Besciamella (White Sauce)

  • 01 of 07

    What is 'besciamella'?

    Besciamella sauce (white sauce)
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    Besciamella is the Italian version of béchamel, one of the five fundamental French "mother sauces." Whether it originated in Italy or in France has been debated (and still not determined), but it first appeared some time during the reign of Louis XIV. Whatever the origin, it is used as the basis for many dishes in Italy, France, and other European countries. It is not often used by itself, though with the addition of some grated cheese and/or other flavorings, it can be transformed into...MORE a simple pasta sauce or poured over vegetables and baked (with or without the addition of a sprinkling of bread crumbs) until golden-brown for a hearty gratinata (gratin). It is an essential ingredient in many lasagnas and other baked pasta dishes. While it requires few ingredients and is not difficult to make, there are a few tricks to know for besciamella success: read on!

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  • 02 of 07

    Melt the butter

    Melting butter to make besciamella
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    (We're going to make 2 cups of besciamella. Scale up or down depending on your recipe's requirements, though it would be difficult to successfully make less than 1 cup.)

    Melt 2 tablespoons (1 ounce/30 grams) of unsalted butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. 

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  • 03 of 07

    Whisk in flour

    Adding flour to the melted butter for besciamella
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    With a wire whisk, whisk 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour into the melted butter. You now have a roux, an essential element in many classic dishes and the basis of several of the "mother sauces." It might tend to clump up a bit at first, but keep whisking and it will "smooth out." 

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  • 04 of 07

    Cook the roux

    Browned roux for making besciamella
    Danette St. Onge

    Continue cooking the roux over low heat, whisking continuously, until it is lightly golden brown (about 3 to 5 minutes). Be careful not to scorch it or brown it too much, but just enough to bring out a warm, nutty color and aroma.

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  • 05 of 07

    Add the milk

    Whisking milk into a roux to make besciamella sauce
    Dave King/Getty

    Slowly pour in 2 cups of milk, whisking vigorously and continuously. The roux will tend to seize and clump up when the liquid is added (tip: use room temperature or slightly heated milk, not fridge-cold milk, to avoid this), so it's important to keep whisking energetically until the roux has dissolved in the milk and it forms an even, homogeneous mixture. 

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  • 06 of 07

    Season

    Grating nutmeg into besciamella sauce
    David Murray and Jules Selmes/Getty

    Season with a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg, a pinch of white pepper (if desired), and fine sea salt, to taste. 

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  • 07 of 07

    Raise heat & whisk until thickened

    Finished besciamella sauce coats a spoon
    Will Heap/Getty

    Raise the heat to medium and continue whisking the mixture until it starts to thicken (about 5 to 7 minutes). Don't let a skin form on top of the sauce or on the bottom of the pot. If it does, whisk well to incorporate and lower the heat a bit. When the besciamella is ready, it will thickly coat a spoon that's dipped into it. If it is a bit too thick for your purposes, you can thin it by whisking in more milk, a little bit at a time. If, on the other hand, it's too thin, continue...MORE whisking in more flour until it reaches the right consistency. (Keep in mind, however, that you should not have approximately 1-3 tablespoons of flour per cup of milk as the general ratio.) Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm until ready to use (it will continue to thicken as it cools).