Friday, 19 March 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.


  1. Zing! I did just this the other night. Threw in some Wensleydale and Jarlsberg, stir stir stir. Toss with Pasta, place in a dish, top with garlicy bread crumbs, bake for a bit... mac and cheese!

  2. I'm dying to know what steps she left out!
    I always put far too much flour in and end up making about 2 pints of the stuff...


  3. It was taking the pan off the heat while you make the roux and the last cooking stage.

    The making-too-much problem I think can be remedied by experience. There ARE recipes that will tell you how much butter and flour to use for how much sauce but frankly, I always find trial and error more fun xxx

  4. yeaa.. I'm always scared of making white sauce, especially when it involves cream, because it turns into some sort of horrible liquidy white-spotty stuff....

  5. does it?! that doesn't sound right... try it maybe without the cream? I must say, cream doesn't do much to improve a white sauce. I tend to use cream OR a white sauce but don't bother mixing the two. overkill.

  6. Thankyou very much for this! I will try it as soon as poss and let you know how it goes.

  7. I was going to say this recipe has changed my life but decided that's a bit strong, I'm sad but not that sad, but it has made a very positive impact! I'm so glad I've finally found a straightforward recipe for white sauce, I could never get it to work before and I think it was the whole 'taking it off the heat' step that I was missing. Since reading this a few months ago I've made all sorts of exciting things incorporating white sauce and I currently have a moussaka cooking in the oven (but God knows how that'll turn out, it's a mishmash of about 3 recipes and just some guess work!)

    Anyway just thought you'd appreciate some feedback. Hope all goes well with the forthcoming birth and they give you lots of good drugs to take the pain away.

  8. Oh that makes me terribly happy - thank you very much for taking the trouble to write. That has inspired me to get off my arse and take some photos to go with this.

    Moussaka is my absolute favourite. I'm having something quite boring for dinner so I am jealous. A 3-recipe mish mash always turns out great. x

  9. Ah forget about the photos for now, you're pregnant, you should be sitting on a comfy chair with your feet up, drinking tea and eating biscuits, it's the law!(if it isn't, it should be!?!)

    Just thought I'd say (as I'm so impressed with myself and feel the need to share) that the moussaka turned out surprisingly well and I ate it while watching Come Dine With Me on C4+1 and feeling very smug cos their dinner looked rubbish! The only problem is I didn't write down how I made it and I'm not sure I can re-create it.....the cinammon seemed to be the secret ingredient...I think.... :)