Béchamel sauce or white sauce is made from white roux and milk and is one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. Historically, this creamy white sauce was reserved for the rich as prior to mass refrigeration, milk products were rarely used in average households. This sauce is typically found in dishes containing eggs, pasta, potatoes (incredible in scalloped potatoes), vegetables, and white meats. Béchamel is the base sauce for Nantua, Mornay, and Soubise to name a few.
Béchamel’s predecessor is the Italian sauce Balsamella, another simple white sauce made of butter, flour, and milk originally made in Tuscany during the Renaissance. Brought to France in 1533 by Medici chefs, the sauce was prominent in Italian cooking texts of the time and was originally a veal veloute with a large amount of added cream to form a velvety texture.
Traditional béchamel took form in the middle of the 18th century by melting butter in a pan, then frying peeled onions and root vegetables, adding parsley and then cream, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. This was brought to a boil, strained, and served with more butter. Béchamel, as we know it today, similarly starts by frying minced shallots, parsley, and green onions in butter, then adding cream, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. However, additional parsley is added and served without straining.
It is possible to make a vegan version of béchamel by replacing the butter with oil, and the milk with plant-based alternatives.
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