Béchamel Sauce (Besciamella) | How to Make Italian White Sauce

Béchamel sauce (besciamella in Italian) has French origin and has become part of Italian culinary tradition for a very long time. 

It’s also known as White Sauce or Mother Sauce because many sauces are made with béchamel as a base, such as Mornay, which is a somewhat richer version.

It is a smooth, white sauce made made with just 3 ingredients: flour, milk, and butter.

béchamel sauce

Lasagna and Cannelloni would not exist without besciamella and some pasta recipes or vegetables au gratin require this precious Italian white sauce.

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.


Béchamel Sauce Recipe (Italian White Sauce)

  • Prep Time: 5 Min
  • Cook Time: 15 Min
  •  Yields : 4 people or 500 ml of sauce

Ingredients

  • 500 ml of milk
  • 50 g (1,7 oz) of unsalted butter
  • 50 g (1,7 oz) of all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon of fine salt
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • parmigiano reggiano cheese (optional)

Kitchen Tools and Equipments

You will need a stainless steel saucepan with high sides and a balloon whisk.

Directions

WHITE SAUCE RATIO: the ingredients for this recipe are for 500 ml of Italian white sauce. If you need 1 liter, doubled the ingredients. If you want a more liquid béchamel sauce, reduce the flour and the butter (for example 30 g (1 oz) of flour and 30 g (1 oz) of butter).

IMPORTANT: the fat part (the butter) and the flour, according to the traditional recipe of béchamel sauce, must have the same weight.

bechamel sauce step 1Step 1)Get ready with all the ingredients. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.
bechamel sauce step 2Step 2) – 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. 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. 
bechamel sauce step 3Step 3) – 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. Finally, add a pinch of fine salt and grated nutmeg to taste.
bechamel sauce step 4-Step 4) –  For an even richer flavor, add a little Parmigiano reggiano cheese (optional). Italian béchamel sauce is ready to use.

How to Store Italian White Sauce

You can make a Italian white sauce 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 of milk):

  • runny bechamel: 30 g (1 oz) of flour + 30 g (1 oz) of butter
  • classic bechamel: 50 g (1,7oz) of flour + 50 g (1,7oz) 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.

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