Why You Should Cook Béchamel On A Griddle

It may not seem like the ideal time to make a lot of heavy cream sauces as we shift into warmer summer months, but it's always the right time to master one of the five mother sauces. Along with the other building blocks of French cuisine — velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato — béchamel sauce creates the foundation for many creamy sauces used in comfort food favorites we crave year-round.

Béchamel is a simple sauce made by sautéing equal parts flour and fat, usually butter, into a roux. Milk is slowly whisked into the cooked, pale roux until the white sauce thickens. In its basic form, béchamel is often seasoned with salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg and is often used in recipes like croque monsieur and moussaka

Called besciamella in Italian, preparing a béchamel sauce can take 45 minutes to achieve the correct consistency, with lots of whisking to minimize lumps. While the three-ingredient sauce is easy enough to prepare, cooking béchamel over a direct flame makes it prone to burning. In an interview with Food & Wine, Chef Stefano Secchi said he prefers using a flat top for its consistent heat source. Home cooks that don't have a flat top can use an electric griddle instead. The Sunday morning workhorse, often used for nonstick pancake making, provides an even heating surface when used on a low setting, so there's plenty of time to get the proper creamy texture. 

How to upgrade a basic béchamel sauce

Rushing the dish over high heat will result in a volcanic situation, with drops of béchamel spitting out of the pot like hot lava. Like with gravy, lumps happen, so cooks should strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve before using it. Béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead, placing a piece of parchment paper on its surface to prevent a layer of film from developing. Unlike other cream sauces, béchamel won't separate when reheated, making it ideal for prepping beforehand.

This luscious, smooth dairy sauce elevates dishes traditionally made with ricotta, like lasagna and baked ziti. Whether methodically layered in a lasagna or ladled onto cooked noodles for baked ziti, a béchamel sauce balances the acidity of tomato sauce and adds a wonderful mouthfeel to each bite, complementing the cheesy components of a recipe.  

Béchamel is like a blank canvas and can be flavored by changing the type of fat, using oil or ghee, or adding herbs and spices. Since butter's milk solids have been removed to make ghee, béchamel made with ghee won't brown as much, producing a brighter sauce. Scalding the milk with herbs like bay leaves or thyme will infuse your dish with different flavors. When using béchamel sauce for roasted meats, consider adding Dijon, dry mustard, or even wasabi to brighten the dish with acidity or a kick of heat.