Kitchen Saucery – the Secrets to Making Classic Sauces

To an inexperienced cook, there is something magical about making white sauce. The process begins by cooking butter and flour together. This is called a roux – pronounced ‘roo’. Cooking the roux looks hard enough, but adding liquid to that without ending up with a lumpy mess seems almost impossible. It seems like a task for a saucerer’s apprentice, but once the trick is mastered, it will be one of the most useful in your repertoire.

With white sauce you have the basis of many dishes, from potato bake to lasagna. Basic white sauce can become Mornay, cheese sauce and white wine sauce, and it can accompany classic dishes such as Creamy Fettuccine, Chicken with White Wine and Lobster Mornay.

It may take practice at first to get the roux exactly right, but once you have mastered it, you have a recipe with such magical properties, you will wonder how you ever managed without it.

The first thing you need is a good saucepan – literally, a pan for making sauce. It needs to be well made and solid – a good stainless steel, anodised aluminum or copper bottomed pan will be best. A thin cheap pan will just burn your sauce.

Have every thing you need ready when you begin. You will need the correct quantities of butter and flour, a jug of milk (or milk and water) in the correct quantity, a wooden spoon and a wire whisk.

Put the pan on the heat and add a lump of butter. How much butter you use will define the amount of flour you use – these basic ingredients should be equal. So if you use one tablespoon of butter you will add one tablespoon of flour. The milk will be added to this and can be a more flexible quantity. One cup is the usual amount for a tablespoon of butter and flour. If you want your sauce thicker or thinner, vary the quantity of milk slightly. For a larger quantity of sauce you can double or triple the basic flour and butter, and adjust the liquid accordingly.

Melt the butter until it is just starts to foam. (Butter really is better when it comes to white sauce, but you can use good quality margarine if you prefer). For white sauce, the butter must not brown. Add the flour and stir it well with a wooden spoon, to blend it. Let it cook for a minute or two to cook the raw taste out of the flour, then add the liquid, stirring well.

Swap the wooden spoon for a wire whisk, and whisk the mixture in the pan briskly to prevent lumps forming. Keep whisking as the mixture cooks and thickens.

When it has thickened, it is ready. Now you work some further saucery, depending on what you plan to do with it. If you are making bechamel for lasagna, just add salt and pepper and pour it over the prepared dish. You can sprinkle grated parmesan over the top, but if you want cheese sauce, add a half a cup of grated cheddar cheese to the hot cooked sauce and stir it in. A more elegant version is Mornay sauce, where you add grated Gruyere or Gouda and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Serve this over cooked vegetables.

For a simple parsley sauce to serve with fish, add half a cup of chopped fresh parsley. For a curry sauce similar to the Japanese recipe, add a tablespoon of curry powder to the roux. To make a Veloute sauce to serve over poached chicken or fish, replace the milk with chicken or fish stock. For white wine sauce, simply replace the liquid with half white wine and half chicken stock.

Don’t be afraid to work some magic in the kitchen, and grow your skills from saucerer’s apprentice to master of saucery!