When I began culinary school, I have to admit I really felt like a complete fish out of water. I was about 10 years older than almost everyone else in the class (I started when I was 31), and most of them had already done some work in restaurants. I came from Corporate America, the most restaurant experience I had was working the front counter of McDonald’s during summers in high school. I felt so overwhelmed after the first day that I made my two-hour commute home from the city fighting back tears. What had I gotten myself into? Did I make the wrong decision? The second day was better, but it was on the third day that things really turned around. We were working on classic French sauces in this lesson, and I was cooking bechamel sauce when our instructor came over to my station. He took a taste and said it was perfect, then made everyone else in the class come over to take a taste. That was the first moment that I felt like I could do it, and that I belonged there. So bechamel sauce will forever have a little special place in my heart. It’s the classic French mother sauce for so many other sauces, like Mornay. I’ve used it many times in lasagnas, as well as the most fantastic base for homemade mac and cheese.
First I needed to make the onion pique, which is just the fancy French way of saying pricked onion. It gives the essential flavor base to the bechamel sauce. All I did was cut an onion in half and peel it. Then I placed two bay leaves across its face and secured them with whole cloves. So simple to do and super effective! Then it was time to make the roux. In my sauce pan I heated up butter and flour together over medium high heat. I kept whisking them together until it was a golden, smooth and thick mixture. While I kept whisking, I poured in lots of almond milk. Regular milk also works here, but I’ve actually grown really partial to the extra nutty flavor it gave to the sauce. Plus I like to think it makes the sauce a little healthier. Then I just added salt, nutmeg and the onion pique.
I brought the bechamel sauce to a gentle bubbling, then turned the heat to low to allow it to cook and thicken for 20 minutes. Once it was done, I poured it through my fine mesh strainer right into a heat proof bowl to really make sure it was incredibly smooth.
From there, the possibilities were endless! Bechamel sauce is so incredibly versatile. I’ve used it in lasagnas, mac and cheese sauce, over steaks, you name it. This recipe is also foolproof and comes together quickly. Enjoy friends, the handy printable is just below!