Béchamel sauce (Besciamella) is a smooth, white sauce made with just 3 ingredients: flour, milk, and butter. It’s also known as White Sauce or Mother Sauce because many sauces are made with Béchamel as a base, such as Mornay Sauce, which is a somewhat richer version.
Someone thinks that Béchamel recipe was born in France. In reality its origins are Italian. In fact it was born in Tuscany. It was initially called “Salsa Colla” (“glue sauce”) because its main purpose was as a binding element in many pasta and vegetable dishes. It was exported to France by Caterina de’ Medici (see paragraph “Origins of Béchamel Sauce”)
The preparation of Bechamel Sauce consists in adding milk to a white roux, a cooked mixture made with equal quantities of butter and flour. Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg then cook for about 15 minutes so that the sauce thickens.
You can buy ready-made béchamel sauce, but you have to know that homemade béchamel sauce is very easy and fast to make. The ingredients and the steps are few, just follow some rules. In fact, there are some steps that, if done wrong, compromise the success of the sauce. So now let’s see together how to make the best Bechamel Sauce Recipe!
Béchamel Sauce Recipe (Italian White Sauce)
- Prep Time: 5 Min
- Cook Time: 15 Min
- Yields : 4 people or 500 ml (2 ½ cup) of bechamel sauce
- 500 ml (2 cups) of milk
- 50 g (1,7 ounce or ¼ cup) of unsalted butter
- 50 g (1,7 ounce or 4 tablespoons) of all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon of fine salt
- freshly grated nutmeg
- Parmigiano reggiano cheese (optional)
Kitchen Tools and Equipments
WHITE SAUCE RATIO: the ingredients for this recipe are for 500 ml (2 ½ cup) of Bechamel sauce. If you need 1 liter (5 cups) of bechamel, doubled the ingredients. If you want a more liquid béchamel sauce, reduce the flour and the butter. For example 30 g (1 ounce or 2 ½ tablespoons) of flour and 30 g (1 ounce or 2 tablespoons) of butter.
IMPORTANT: the fat part (the butter) and the flour must have ALWAYS the same weight.
Step 1) – Get ready with all the ingredients. Then in a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Now add the flour, better if you use a flour sieve, in this way you are sure that no lumps are formed. Mix quickly (but very quickly) with a whisk. Stir until the mixture is smooth and without lumps.
This is the time when you have to be more careful. Cook for 30 sec/1 min so the flour becomes tastier and absorb the butter fats. The mixture of butter and flour is called roux and it should be a nice golden color; you can even use it to thicken other sauces or gravy! Now set aside and let it cool.
Step 2) – Meanwhile heat the milk, without bringing to a boil. Pour the milk slowly over the roux, while stirring vigorously with a whisk to prevent the formation of lumps.
When the milk is completely poured over the roux sauce, put the saucepan back on low heat. Keep mixing constantly, until you have a fairly thick consistency (about 10/15 minutes). The sauce is ready when it sticks to the back of a wooden spoon.
Step 3) – Add a pinch of fine salt and grated nutmeg to taste. For an even richer flavor, add a little Parmigiano reggiano cheese (optional). Italian béchamel sauce is ready to use.
How to Store Bechamel Sauce
You can make Bechamel ahead of time. So once cold, it can be kept in the refrigerator, closed in an airtight container, for a maximum of 2-3 days.
The best thing to do is to transfer the bechamel into a bowl and cover it with cling film that is in contact with the sauce (otherwise a denser layer will form on the surface). If this happens, remove it before serving. In fact, if you break it and mix it with the rest of the white sauce, you’ll have many small clumps of clotted bechamel!
Béchamel sauce can be frozen and kept in the freezer for about 1 month.
How to Reheat Béchamel Sauce
If necessary, you can reheat the white sauce in a saucepan over low heat: it’ll return smooth and creamy just working it with the whips of an electric mixer; you can add a little milk to make it more fluid.
Italian Béchamel Sauce Consistency
With this recipe you get an average density. If you prefer a more liquid bechamel, decrease the dose of butter and flour; for a thicker béchamel instead, increase the dose of butter and flour. If lumps form in the béchamel sauce just filter it with a colander.
Summing Up: for 500 ml (2 cups) of milk
- runny bechamel: 30 g (1 oz) of flour + 30 g (1 oz) of butter
- classic bechamel: 50 g (1,7 oz) of flour + 50 g (1,7 oz) of butter
- thick bechamel: 70 g (2,40 oz) of flour + 70 g (2,40 oz) of butter
For a perfect Italian Béchamel Sauce, butter and flour must have the same weight.
Vegan Béchamel Sauce
To make a vegan béchamel, you can replace the butter with olive or seed oil and cow’s milk with a vegetable milk of your choice.
Origins of Béchamel Recipe
In the beginning, Bechamel Sauce, born in Tuscany, was known as “Salsa Colla” (“glue sauce”). Mainly used in recipes to bind ingredients together, it was exported to France by Caterina de’ Medici.
Originally, Bechamel Sauce was obtained with a slow cooking of milk, meat broth and spices, mixed with the addition of cream.
Once called by Artusi “Balsamella”, it is one of the basic sauces of Italian cuisine.
The current name Bechamel appeared in the 15th century Italian cookbook known as La cucina Medicea. It was intended to honor the courtier Louis de Béchameil, Marquis of Nointel (1630-1703).
The name of this precious Italian sauce has changed over the centuries, from being called “Salsa Colla”, “Balsamella”, to the current Bechamel or Besciamella in Italian.