Friday, March 19, 2010

White sauce - experienced cooks look away

It took me years to master a white sauce. I was shown at an early age by my mother how to do it, but when trying to replicate it, it always went horribly wrong. Lumpy, floury and gross.

My mother, in her haste to make food for 4 children, while repairing a wall that had fallen down in the middle of the night and fixing the car, had left out two quite important steps when she was talking me through it, which I later discovered when reading a cookbook. Can't remember which.

So here we go, this is a white sauce. I'm not including exact amounts, because they don't really matter. The important thing is that you get the hang of the method and the idea.

Take a knob of butter, approximately 50g and melt it gently in a pan

Now take the pan off the heat (this is very important) and sprinkle over a tablespoon of flour. Stir in with a wooden spooon until there are no lumps. Add flour bit by bit until you have made a sort of butter-and-flour paste. Stop when it is still on the creamy side, rather than stiff and dry.

Now add about two glugs of milk and with a wooden spoon or whisk (still with the pan off the heat) mess it about until it seems more or less mixed in. A couple of little lumps don't matter.

Put the pan back on the heat and pour in the rest of the milk - eg. probably about 3/4 of a pint if you were doing a macaroni cheese for about 4-6 people.

Heat it all over a medium flame, stirring often with a whisk or a wooden spoon - or a combination of both. About three or four minutes into this, you ought to find that the sauce starts to thicken. At this point you can add cheese if you are making a cheese sauce. Either way, throw in a pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper.

After the sauce has thickened and you've added your extra ingredients cook the sauce for a bit - maybe 4 or 5 minutes or even more - over the lowest flame you've got, stirring all the time. This extra bit of cooking is what prevents the sauce from forming that horrible grainy floury texture that happens so often.

If you wander off for a minute and then come back and it's formed a skin, don't worry, just stir this all in. If for some reason your sauce turns out much more thick than you wanted it, you can add more milk.

And that ought to be that.

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