This classic French sauce is identical to a basic white sauce, except it is made with milk infused with herbs and spices for more flavour. It is also made in varying consistencies like the basic white sauce (left). Use for layered pasta dishes, such as lasagne. Once made it is important to simmer the sauce until reduced down and fully thickened, stirring frequently. Makes about 300ml (½pint).
Many ingredients, including pre-cooked ones, can be stirred into a béchamel sauce at the end of cooking. The cheese sauce (below) is good with fish, eggs and vegetables.
Place 300ml (½pint) milk in a heavy-based saucepan with ½onion, 8-10black peppercorns, 1bay leaf and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Bring the milk to the boil, then remove the saucepan from the heat, cover and leave it on one side for 10–12 minutes for the flavours to infuse into the milk.
Meanwhile, in another saucepan, prepare the roux (left), then remove from the heat. Strain the milk into the roux, whisking immediately, and discard the flavourings. Return the saucepan to the heat and bring to the boil, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens, then simmer gently for 2–3 minutes, still whisking. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make a cheese sauce, make a thin béchamel sauce; remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in 125g (4oz) grated Parmesan or Cheddar cheese and 1teaspoonDijon mustard, stirring until the cheese melts; do not return to the heat again or the cheese may turn stringy. For extra flavouring, add either grated nutmeg or a sprinkling of caraway or cumin seeds and stir in.