Some of the recipes in the Bake section depend on a proper béchamel sauce to be truly mouth watering, so to simplify matters here's the recipe for the basic sauce. Béchamel is really what us plebs call white sauce but it is far tastier than the hot wallpaper paste which many cooks serve up.
1 pint (600ml) milk (dairy or soya)
1oz (25g) butter or margarine
1oz (25g) plain flour
1 small onion or a piece the size of a walnut
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme or a pinch of dried thyme
1 pinch fresh ground black pepper
1 pinch fresh grated nutmeg
1 pinch salt
- First melt the butter in a saucepan over a low light and when melted add the flour and stir well with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth paste, this is a roux.
- Cook the roux for a two or three minutes, stirring continuously, then add the milk in three or four stages, stirring each addition in to prevent lumps.
- Once all the milk has been added and the sauce is smooth, add the onion, the bay leaf and the thyme. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Strain the sauce though a sieve into a suitable jug or other container and add the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
- This basic sauce can be made beforehand and kept covered in the fridge for up to 3 days. Some cooks put in a small piece of celery and carrot with the onion, some use a sachet of bouquet garni instead of the bay leaf and thyme, some use a bit of marjoram and rosemary. It's not fixed in stone so play around until you find your favourite way.