This is the most basic of the “mother sauces” of classical French cooking. Even if you don’t think you’re cooking French food or ever heard of the word bechamel, it’s a useful technique for making white sauces with enough body to stand up to added ingredients. And if you’re thinking “Who wants thick white sauces?” I refer you to macaroni and cheese and crabmeat au gratin. Those are just two essential dishes that are improved with the use of a simple bechamel. It’s also found in many of the recipes here. There’s really nothing to it, and you’ll get a kick out of the way it thickens up after just a little whisking.

This recipe makes a lot of bechamel. If you don’t need this much, cut all the ingredients in half or even to one-fourth these quantities. Best way to warm the milk: microwave.

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk
  • Tiniest pinch of nutmeg (optional)

1. Heat the butter, add the flour, and stir as if you’re making a roux. Cook until the texture changes.

2. Whisk in the milk and nutmeg until it takes on the texture of very light mashed potatoes. At first, it doesn’t look likely for that to happen, but then–as if by magic–it does.

Makes about two cups.

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