When I set out to learn about the five mother sauces (click here and here if you missed the first two parts) I was excited about all of them except one – bechamel. What’s to get excited about? I’ve made it a thousand times (mac & cheese is a life long love), so my initial thought was “how boring.” My plan was to sort of slip it in on my way to more exciting parts of this series (bring on the classic tomate and espagnole sauces!).
However, despite my dead-beat approach to making bechamel, I did do my research and – lo and behold – I learned some things! Some surprising things.
First, did you know that a lot of bechamel recipes call for an onion that you simmer in the butter, flour, milk mixture? I’ve never done that before and you might think it makes it all onion-y weird, but it doesn’t. Oh, and I also learned that you should stick one itty-bitty clove into the onion so that the sauce gets infused with just a hint of clove – you can’t even tell it’s there. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi this whole clove business. See, look – my onion has an earring!
Lastly, I learned I’ve been making bechamel wrong my whole life. Or I should say, I’ve been way too loosey- goosey with my bechamel up until now. I never paid much attention to the ratio of butter/flour/milk preferring to instead fly to by the seat of my pants. I also learned you have to take your time (I’ve always rushed through the process before) and, by the way, that time investment is so worth it – the resulting sauce was so creamy and had the most amazing consistency. Like, “can I just drink that straight from the sauce pan” amazing.
Let’s break it down… first, you melt the butter. I wanted my sauce very white (hence its nickname ‘white sauce’) so I melted the butter over pretty low heat before adding in the flour to make the roux (lesson learned after making veloute sauce). After I poured the hot milk in I was quite pleased with the color – it was as white as new fallen snow. I let it simmer and reduce until it was thick enough to coat a spoon. I had only a few little lumps that managed to adhere themselves to the spoon, as you can see, but it looks pretty good, right?
Seeing as it’s almost Easter a nice gratin seemed in order, so I got to doctoring up my bechamel with some tasty stuff. First, I stirred in some roasted garlic that I had mashed into a paste before adding some cheddar cheese which turned this bechamel into one of the best cheese sauces I’ve ever made. I couldn’t stop staring at it…
I gently folded in some cauliflower florets that I roasted in the oven for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees. All of it went into a baking dish with some more cheese on top and I stuck it under the broiler to get it all melty and nice.
This recipe I’m sharing can easily stretch to serve six – this is some serious creamy, cheesy comfort food best served as celebration food – you know, it’s a dish that’s so rich a lot goes a long way, so it’s best served for special occasions. Maybe for Easter dinner? It’d go great alongside a nice slice of ham.
So this wraps up sauce #2 in my series and all I have to say is: Bechamel, I will never take you for granted again. I promise to use proper ratios, take the time to whisk, stir, and reduce each and every time I make you again. I realize now what a gift you are. You are so not boring.
Creamy, cheesy roasted cauliflower gratin.
40 minPrep Time
10 minCook Time
50 minTotal Time
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 21/2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 onion
- 1 clove
- 1 head of cauliflower, broken down to 2 inch florets
- 1 head of garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon
- 2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
- Salt & Pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a couple pinches of salt and pepper. Spread the florets evenly on a baking sheet. Cut just the top off the head of garlic (enough to expose the cloves), drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the top and then wrap the garlic in tin foil. Place it on the sheet pan with the cauliflower. Roast the garlic and cauliflower for about 30 minutes, just until the cauliflower is tender and nicely browned in places.
- While the cauliflower is roasting, prepare the bechamel sauce. First, heat the milk in a sauce pan until it just starts to simmer. While the milk is heating, in another sauce pan melt the butter over low heat until frothy. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until it forms a paste. Slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking continuously to ensure no lumps form and the roux fully incorporates into the milk. Raise the heat to bring the pot to a simmer.
- Stick the single clove into the onion and add both to the milk mixture. Let the mixture simmer and reduce for about 20 minutes or so, or until it has reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon. You will need to stir frequently to ensure the bechamel does not burn at the bottom of the pan. Once reduced remove the onion and clove. You can strain the sauce to remove any lumps (or not, it's up to you).
- When the garlic is roasted, squeeze out the cloves and mash with a fork. Add the garlic to the sauce and stir to combine. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the grated cheese until it's melted into the sauce. At this point taste for seasoning and add in some salt and pepper (I added 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, but season to your taste).
- Gently fold the roasted garlic into the sauce. Pour the mixture into a 8 x 8 baking dish, top with the remaining cheese and set it under the broiler until the cheese melts and starts to brown a bit on top. Remove from the oven and serve.