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Named after the French aristocrat Louis de Bechameil, this sauce was first published in 1651 by the esteemed chef François Pierre La Varenne. There is debate over whether Bechameil actually invented the sauce or was merely its namesake. It is made with milk, yet the final product is thick and rich and more reminiscent of heavy cream. Béchamel can be slathered over vegetables, fish or poultry. In Italy it is traditionally combined wih tomato sauce and poured over baked pastas.
· 2 oz. salted butter
· 4 oz. chopped onion
· 2 oz. all purpose flour
· 1 quart cold milk
· Salt and white pepper to taste
· 6 cloves
· Pinch of nutmeg
Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan or ideally, a saucier, (a sauce pan with sloping sides which prevents food from getting trapped and burning in the corners). Add the onion and some salt and pepper. Sweat, do not saute the onion until soft. Add the flour and stir constantly for no more than two minutes. Gradually add the cold milk while constantly whisking. When all of the milk has been incorporated add the cloves and a little more salt and pepper. Simmer the sauce on low heat for 30 minutes, frequently whisking and assessing for extra seasoning as the sauce thickens. Strain the sauce thorugh a chinois or fine sieve and finish with the nutmeg.
The thickness of béchamel can be altered by adjusting the amount of roux. The above recipe will produce a béchamel of medium viscosity. For a light béchamel use three oz. of roux per quart of milk and for a heavier sauce employ five.
When the béchamel is done, whisk in cheese until it melts for a Mornay sauce; ideal for macaroni and cheese.
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