|A gluten free white sauce comes together on the stovetop|
The basic white sauce is an important sauce to master. Folks who don't have formal training or a bunch of restaurant experience are sometimes a little freaked out by making this sauce. Don't be afraid, gringo.
If you can make gravy, you can make white sauce. Even if you can't make gravy, you can still make white sauce (after which, you can make gravy!).
Bechamel, which is a lightly-flavored but close cousin of basic white sauce, is one of the "mother sauces" of French cooking. As the name implies, once you get the hang of these sauces, you can then spawn many others. The basic deal with a white sauce is to combine fat, flour, and liquid (just like gravy).
In the case of white sauce, the fat is butter, the flour is flour (gluten free in this case), and the liquid is milk.
Here's how it breaks down:
(Makes a little more than 1 Cup)
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 2 Tablespoons flour (I use Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Flour)
- 1 Cup milk
Heat a small stainless steel saucepan on medium to medium-low heat. Once the saucepan is warm, melt the butter, and then add the flour. Stir things around with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon (one that fits into the corners) to combine evenly. You should end up with a somewhat runny but playdough-like substance called roux (pronounced: "roo").
Cook the roux briefly (1-2 minutes), stirring constantly, while keeping the heat low so the roux doesn't brown. The idea here is to cook the raw flavor out of the flour (this step is important for wheat flour as well as gluten free flour). Should you succeed in keeping your roux from browning, you have what is called a "blonde roux" (as opposed to a "brown roux," which is what you get when you let your roux brown a bit).
Once you are happy with your blonde roux (or even if you aren't—don't worry) add the milk to the saucepan. Upon adding the milk, immediately begin whisking your inchoate white sauce in order to break up the clumps of roux. This whisking begins the process of turning the whole shebang into a smooth, creamy sauce. You'll want to whisk fairly constantly until the sauce has heated up and is beginning to boil.
NOTE: Many white sauce recipes call for scalded milk. While the addition of hot milk to the roux speeds the process along, the finished product is the same whether you add hot or cold milk. With hot milk, you spend less time whisking and worrying about things sticking to the bottom of the pan. Since I normally have too many other things going on in my kitchen (like, say, a toddler swinging the meat cleaver at his brother) I usually just add cold milk rather than heating it ahead of time.
NOTE: In the unlikely event that you you didn't cook all of the raw flour taste out of your roux, you now have a second chance (lucky you).
Once the white sauce is hot and just beginning to boil, go ahead and taste it to see if it has an unpleasant raw flour taste. Chances are it doesn't. But if you think it might, go ahead and cook it a few minutes longer (while whisking constantly).
Once you're happy with your sauce's taste (remember, you haven't added any salt or other seasonings... so it's gonna be pretty bland), remove it from the heat and set aside until you're ready for it. Your white sauce is now ready for transformation into other sauces like Alfredo, Bechamel, Florentine, Mornay, and many others.