3. Half gallon milk (whole or 2%)
4. Onion, 1 small
5. Optional: cheese (Cheddar, Goda or Parmesan), 3 medium potatoes
Most dining halls specialize in buttery gratins, cheesy scalloped vegetables and sinfully dense macaroni dishes. Even if the slab of pork loin you found under the heat lamp doesn't look edible no doubt the twice baked potatoes or a wedge of bubbling, golden brown baked macaroni and cheese will be. Despite the less than humble ring to it bechamel is a simple sauce that is the foundation for hundreds of staple dishes. That cheese sauce you spooned over your steamed broccoli, the broiled chicken breast or even the unidentifiable layer of creamy, cheesy delicious in your lasagna are bechamel based. So, the next time you're in need of a little comfort food look no further than the stick of butter and gallon of milk in your fridge. Welcome to the wide world of bechamel.
Pressed for time I often melted a little butter in a saucepan, tossed in some flour and a splash of milk straight from the fridge. Stir in a little cheese, maybe a spoonful of Dijon mustard or a sprinkle of nutmeg and I was ready to pour it over some pasta and maybe some steamed veggies. But, with age comes wisdom and a refining of technique. Heating the milk is essential to a smooth sauce and something I always cut out before. A little grated onion also amps up the flavor of this multipurpose sauce and a quick trip through a sieve does wonders to correct minor mishaps in the cooking process. Below is a very basic bechamel with a few inspired adjustments and additions. For a quick scalloped potato dish see the bottom of the page.
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons grated onion
1 cup milk (if using skim milk use a scant cup)
1/8 teaspoon salt and pepper
1. Peel the onion and grate 2 teaspoons worth into a bowl.
2. Melt the butter over low heat.
3. Heat 1 cup of milk in the microwave until steaming and hot. Alternatively, you can heat it in a separate saucepan.
4. Add the flour to the butter and whisk, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add the grated onion and mix.
5. Slowly add the milk to the butter flour mixture (roux) whisking continuously. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Keep whisking as the mixture begins to thicken, another couple minutes. If you're creating a simple cheese sauce now is the perfect time to whisk it in and whisk until it is creamy and delightful.
Easy scalloped potatoes
1. Preheat the oven to 325.
2. Wash and peel 3 potatoes. Slice 1/4" thick and layer in a small dish, seasoning with salt and pepper between layers.
3. Prepare the bechamel.
4. Stir in 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and a 1/4 cup grated Parmesan into the warm bechamel.
5. Pour the sauce over the potatoes. Top with a little extra Parmesan cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.