Béchamel is a standard white sauce and one of the five mother sauces of classical cuisine. That means it's the starting point for making other sauces, called "small sauces."
And what a sauce it is. Béchamel is by far the easiest of the mother sauces to make, since it's milk-based, and unless you're a cow, you don't have to make milk.
The procedure for making béchamel is wonderfully idiosyncratic — until you've used whole cloves to pin a bay leaf to an onion, you... haven't fully lived the life of the kitchen.
Béchamel is also among the most versatile. While hollandaise is hollandaise, and there aren't too many classical variations on it, béchamel is the source of any number of creamy, cheesy, velvety sauces that you can serve with fish, seafood, vegetables, and poultry.
01 of 07
A traditional béchamel is made by whisking hot milk into a simple flour-butter roux. The sauce is then simmered with onion, cloves and nutmeg until it is creamy and velvety smooth.
02 of 07
The cream sauce (or "sauce crème") is a the original classic cream sauce and one of the simplest variations on the béchamel sauce. It's made by whisking heavy cream into the finished béchamel.
03 of 07
The mornay sauce is made by enriching a standard béchamel sauce with gruyère and parmesan cheese. The mornay sauce is an ideal accompaniment for vegetables, pasta or fish.
04 of 07
For the soubise sauce, a classic cream sauce for vegetables, we sauté onions and then purée them before adding them to the béchamel. For a simple variation on the classic soubise sauce, you can add some tomato purée to the finished sauce just before serving.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
This version of the nantua sauce, a classic seafood sauce, is made by incorporating shrimp butter and cream into a basic béchamel sauce. Traditionally, however, it is made with crayfish. The nantua sauce is delicious with fish and seafood, especially shellfish.
06 of 07
The cheddar cheese sauce is made by adding cheddar cheese, mustard and Worcestershire sauce to a standard béchamel sauce. Like the mornay sauce, the cheddar cheese sauce is great with vegetables, pasta and fish.
07 of 07
Here's another bechamel variation that's easy to make. The mustard sauce is made by adding prepared mustard to a basic béchamel sauce. This tangy sauce can be served with vegetables, eggs or chicken.