How To Make Bechamel And Its Derivative Sauces

Nov 21, 2018 | Cooking Tips, Recipes

Last Friday I did a post all about lasagna. In that post, I briefly talked about bechamel and how to make it. Today, I want to look more deeply into bechamel. I am going to give a more in-depth recipe and process and talk about some of the derivative sauces you can make with a few simple additions to the recipe.  Let’s jump into it.


What is Bechamel?

Bechamel is a white sauce made with milk (sometimes cream) thickened with a roux. In French cooking, it is one of the five classic mother sauces. A mother sauce is a base out of which many other sauces can be made. We will talk about some of the sauces that can be made with bechamel shortly.

Don’t let the fancy name fool you. It is not nearly as intimidating as it seems. As I said in the lasagna post, it is more than likely that you have made bechamel before and didn’t know it.

How to make Bechamel 



How to make classic bechamel sauce
Total Time: 20 minutes
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: French
Keyword: Bechamel, Sauce
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Chef Ben Kelly


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 an onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 5 cups Whole Milk
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper as needed


  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and saute until the onions are soft.
  • Add the butter and melt.
  • Add the flour, mix it with the melted butter and onions, and cook, stirring regularly for about three minutes.
  • Add the milk and whisk to fully incorporate the roux.
  • Heat the milk, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot regularly, so the roux doesn't stick.
  • Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes or until it thickens and no longer tastes like raw flour.
  • Season with salt, pepper (white pepper if you prefer) and nutmeg.
  • Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve.
  • Put a layer of plastic wrap on the surface of the hot bechamel to prevent a film from forming on the surface.
  • Use the bechamel right away, or keep it in the fridge for up to four days.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Bechamel Notes

First things first let’s talk about pepper. A lot of people like to use white pepper in their bechamel so they don’t get the black specks you get with black pepper. I happen to hate white pepper. I find it smells and tastes like a horse barn. I also don’t mind the black specks in my white sauce. I’ll leave it up to you whether you use white or black pepper.

It is very easy for the roux to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn as the bechamel is simmering. There are a few ways to help prevent this.

Number one is to use a heavy bottom pot.

Number two is to stir the sauce regularly making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. If you do scrape the bottom of the pot and notice brown or black bits floating in your bechamel, strain it right away and put it in a new pot. Taste it before you continue cooking because it may already taste burnt. In that case, you have to start over.

The third and probably safest option is to make the roux separately and add it after the milk has already been heated. In this case, you would simply cook the butter and flour together in a separate pot. The milk would be added to the softened onions and heated. At this point, the roux would be whisked in. You will still have to be vigilant in making sure the roux doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot, but this way is safer if that is your concern.

Derivative Sauces

From that basic bechamel recipe above many other sauces can be made. Below I am going to name the sauce and list what ingredients need to be added to make it. All the below additions are based on the above recipe. I should say that the sauces I’m about to list are very old school. You will likely only ever use one, maybe two of them.


The simple addition of a tsp or two of tarragon to the bechamel makes it a bohemienne sauce. This is a sauce that is traditionally served cold with cold fish or poached salmon.


The additions of truffles and lobster make a Cardinal sauce. How much lobster and truffles do you add? Until you can’t add any more. This sauce is about decadence, not moderation. This sauce would typically be served over fish, lobster and truffles. That’s right lobster and truffles on lobster and truffles.


Three or four whole eggs whisked into the bechamel makes it an Ecossaise sauce. Unsurprisingly, this sauce is traditionally served over eggs.


This is probably one of only two of these derivative sauces you will ever make. This is 1 cup of grated gruyere, 1/4 cup grated parm, whisked into the bechamel. At the last minute before serving 1-2 tbsp of butter is whisked in as well. Traditionally this sauce is served with fish but it is also the base for mac and cheese. You can obviously add whatever cheeses you would like.


2-3 cloves of garlic sauteed with the onion, a 1/4 cup of white wine reduced before the milk is added and then 1 cup of parmesan whisked in at the end. You likely already know what to do with alfredo sauce.


Bechamel is not only the base that makes up some weird classic sauces that you forgot about as soon as you read them. It is also the base to soups and chowders. It makes a great centre for a lasagna or topping for a moussaka.

The recipe may seem very basic but there are things that can go wrong. Practise making this sauce, master it, and you are on your way to mastering classic cooking.



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