Béchamel Sauce & Variations


Lasagne, with Bechamel Sauce

Lasagne, with Bechamel Sauce

By Cat, Nov 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons; by User AlMare)

Béchamel is a basic white sauce that is the foundation for many other sauces, or used as it is. My first experience with béchamel was as a base for country gravy; I didn’t make it – I was only a kid; my job was to taste the gravy and recommend seasonings. My Dad loved country gravy, which he often made in the fry pan after cooking pork chops.

Of course, we didn’t know the name ‘béchamel,’ so when I was on my own I was surprised to learn from the Vegetarian Epicure (1) that it has such a fancy name; indeed, it is considered a base sauce in classic French cuisine.

My discovery of Greek food opened a whole new world for me, using a version of béchamel. Pastitsio and Moussaka are among my favorites, and both have a layer of béchamel on the top – a version includes beaten egg in the sauce.

Basic Béchamel – White Sauce

The most basic and true version of Béchamel is made with equal parts butter and flour to make a roux, then whisking in hot milk to desired thickness. I’ve adapted this version from A Passion for Vegetables (2).

You can vary the amount of milk for a thinner or thicker sauce; 1 cup milk for  2 Tbsp each butter and flour is considered a medium sauce.

Ingredients & Equipment

Sauce or Gravy Whisk

Sauce or Gravy Whisk

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp unbleached white flour
  • ¾ – 1 ¼ cups milk (heated)
  • ¼ tsp unrefined sea salt
  • dash white pepper
  • freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 ½ – 2 ½ Tbsp grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)
  • Equipment
  • 2 small heavy-bottomed saucepans (or 1 saucepan and 1 small skillet)
  • whisk (for sauces; photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)


  1. Heat milk in saucepan to point where steam begins to rise, but don’t let it bubble; keep warm.
  2. In the other saucepan or skillet, make a roux: melt butter and flour over medium-low heat, stirring with a fork or whisk to blend thoroughly. Cook 1 -2 minutes, being careful not to brown the mixture.
  3. Raise heat slightly and immediately pour the hot milk into the sauce, whisking quickly to keep it smooth and without lumps. It will thicken as it reaches a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add seasoning while stirring; cook about 2 minutes. (Optional: Stir in the grated cheese). Then remove from heat.
  4. OR, to keep it warm: put the pan, covered, in a larger pan/skillet of hot water. If it forms a film on top, add a few dots of butter. Stir in the melted butter just before using the sauce.

Béchamel with Egg

This is the version I’ve learned for Greek recipes like Pastitsio (pasticho or pasticcio) and Moussaka. The addition of egg adds richness and protein, and makes a thicker sauce.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • ¼ cup real butter
  • ¼ cup unbleached white flour
  • ¼ – ½ tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • dash black pepper
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 – 3 beaten eggs (depending on desired thickness of sauce)
  • ¼ – ½ tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
  • Medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan (enameled cast iron pan is best)
  • sauce whisk (see photo, above)
  • Medium glass bowl or measuring cup


  1. Prepare roux:  In saucepan, melt the butter.  Stir in the flour, salt and pepper until well blended and cook a minute over medium heat.
  2. Meanwhile, heat milk over medium heat until it begins to steam, but does not boil (bubble). Stir the milk into the roux all at once, vigorously stirring to keep flour from clumping. I like to use an egg whisk or special sauce whisk.
  3. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, add nutmeg and stir well, then remove from heat.
  4. In a medium bowl or glass measuring cup, beat the eggs.  Gradually stir a few spoonsful of the thickened milk mixture into eggs, then stir back into the rest of the milk mixture in the saucepan.  Cook one minute more, stirring constantly to keep the egg from cooking too much.  It will thicken greatly.

Mornay (Cheese Sauce)

  • basic béchamel using ¼ cup each butter and flour, and 1 ½ – 2 ½ cups hot milk (depending on desired thickness)
  • ¼ cup grated cheese such as Parmesan, Romano, Cheddar, etc.
  • grated nutmeg (optional)

Prepare basic béchamel, then stir in grated cheese until smooth. Season with nutmeg if desired.

Soubise (White Sauce with Onion)

  • basic béchamel using ¼ cup each butter and flour, and 1 ½ – 2 ½ cups hot milk (depending on desired thickness)
  • ¼ to ½ onion, chopped finely
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  1. Melt 1 Tbsp butter, then add onions and sauté over medium-low heat until soft, stirring frequently to prevent browning. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover pan and let the onions sweat for a minute. (Optional: transfer onions to blender or food processor and puree)
  2. Add onion to the hot béchamel, stirring until well mixed. Adjust seasoning.

An alternate method is to cook the onions in the butter for the béchamel, then whisk in flour until thoroughly mixed, adding more butter as necessary to take up the flour. Then whisk in the hot mil.

Country Gravy

  •  ¼ cup each butter and flour, and 1 ½ – 2 ½ cups hot milk (depending on desired thickness)
  • ¼ – ½ lb Ground pork sausage

Brown ground pork sausage meat in butter before adding flour to make roux.  Whisk in milk and season to taste.


  1. Vegetarian Epicure by Sally Fallon, with Mary G. Enig, PhD.
  2. A Passion for Vegetables by Vera Gewanter
  3. Best of Friends, Etc. Cookbook by Darlene Glanz Skees
  4. Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

About Cat

See my 'About' page
This entry was posted in Dairy, Eggs, Fat or oil, Flour, Herbs, Onion family, Pork, Spices, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.