Bechames sauce

This is not just a fancy French name for white sauce. The liquid is flavored first, and it is always preferable to white sauce if you have the time to make it. The subtle flavour is especially good where there is either no further flavoring or where the additions are not dominant, for instance, hard-boiled eggs. Once the liquid has been infused with the flavorings, as shown here, the method is the same as for white sauce. Proportions given in this recipe make a coating sauce.

MAKES 250m [½ pt]

- half a small onion
- half a small carrot
- a quarter of a celery stalk
- 250 ml [½ pt] milk
- bay leaf
- 25 g [1 oz] butter
- 25 g [1 oz] flour
- salt and white pepper
- pinch of nutmeg or mace

1 Cut the vegetables into small squares (called dicing) and put into a pan with the milk and seasonings.

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2 Slowly bring the milk to simmering point. Remove from the heat, cover and leave for 30 minutes for the flavors to infuse.

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3 Strain the milk through a sieve into a jug. Discard the vegetables in the sieve. Continue from step 1 for a white roux-based sauce.

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Keeping and reheating of Bechamel sauce

If you need to make a roux-based sauce an hour or so in advance, the surface of the sauce should be covered with a dampened circle of greaseproof paper, when still hot. This will prevent a skin forming.

Never reheat the sauce over direct heat: it may easily burn or become lumpy. Remove the paper and place the pan containing your sauce on a trivet in another larger pan so that the bottom of the saucepan is not in direct contact with the heat. Half fill the pan with water-a roasting tin is ideal-and place it over the heat. This improvised version of a bain-marie or water bath will allow the sauce to be heated more gently, although it should still be stirred or beaten with a sauce whisk from time to time.

Storing of Bechamel sauce

You may find it more convenient to make your basic roux in larger quantities and to store this in the refrigerator. When the roux is cold, turn it out of the saucepan into a screw-top jar. The roux will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

To use, weigh 50 g [2 oz] of roux for coating sauce (or 25 g [1 oz] for a pouring sauce or 100 g [¼ lb] for a panada). Put in a pan, heat 250 ml [½ pt] of liquid and proceed from step 4 for a white sauce, whisking all the time.

Freezing of Bechamel sauce

To freeze a roux, allow it to cool, then put about 50 g [2 oz] on pieces of kitchen foil. When cold, wrap each piece in the foil. Put in polythene bags, seal and freeze for 3~5months. To use, drop the frozen or thawed roux into hot liquid and whisk in. To freeze a made-up white sauce (add flavorings when reheating) pour the cooled sauce into waxed containers, seal, label and freeze. This will keep for 2-3 months. To use, thaw for 1-2 hours at room temperature and reheat in et bain-marie.
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