Photo of Elizabeth Marshall MasterChef New Zealand Macaroni and Cheese in Wellington

The Roux to Béchamel – and ultimately cheese sauce!

Say cheese! I have fond memories of food from my childhood but one of my favourites… my mother’s macaroni and cheese.

Photo of Elizabeth Marshall MasterChef New Zealand Macaroni and Cheese in Wellington

Crunchy on the outside and smooth in the centre, it was worlds apart from the artificial bright orange Kraft macaroni, and fake, cheese out of the box from the USA… Mum made hers from scratch. Actually, she made pretty much everything from scratch something I’m still thankful for everyday.

In New Zealand, it was broccoli or cauliflower with cheese sauce. And I remember in restaurants seafood mornay so rich and fatty you could see pools of oil dabbled across the gooey top that even this cheese lover would struggle to finish!

From my travels around the world, I fell in love with many a cheese and white sauce but learned not every white or cheese sauce is created equal!

There are different methods to creating a smooth and glossy sauce: adding cornflour, egg yolks, or beurre manié (a kneaded butter flour mixture), or reducing liquid down and adding cream/or butter at the end.

Then there’s roux. A mixture of fat and flour that not only thickens sauces, soups, casseroles, meat pie filling, and gravy, it boosts the flavour. And the darker the roux the deeper the flavour!

So you may be worried because we’re making a light sauce it will lack in flavour. Not to worry, there is plenty of room to add extra flavour along the way. Unlike the classic French method, I infuse my béchamel milk before adding it to the roux.

The other key to a beautiful béchamel is the temperature. Gluggy lumpy sauces are not becoming. A fabulous sauce is flavourful, smooth and glossy. The trick is to make sure your roux is room temp and your infused milk slightly warm. If you add hot milk into a hot roux, not only do you have a high chance of burning yourself with steam, your result may be lumpy.

White Roux

  • 25g Flour or cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 25g Butter
  • Salt if using unsalted butter

Cook together over medium-low heat for a few minutes whisking constantly until sandy in texture. Remove from heat to cool. If you’re using cornflour the mixture won’t get to a sandy texture, instead it will look more like a runny paste. 

Picture of Elizabeth Marshall MasterChef New Zealand Sandy Roux Wellington
Classic Flour Roux

If you want the science behind it – the heat and whisking allows the starch molecules to expand binding to the fat. The longer you heat a roux, for example a brown roux, the more the starch will break down so you’ll actually need more roux to thicken whatever you’re thickening!

 

Picture of Elizabeth Marshall MasterChef New Zealand Cornflour Roux Wellington
Cornflour “Roux”

The next step is to add warm milk, while whisking, to your room temperature roux over a medium-low heat to make your béchamel. Simmer until desired consistency et voila! You have a white sauce!

From there you are only limited by your imagination and for me I quite like my cheesy sauce. So much better than the packet stuff too! Add a cup or more of your favourite cheese to your béchamel and try two of my secret ingredients – a little Worcestershire sauce (my mother’s trick) and a few drops of hot sauce (cause I like to heat things up!).

Photo of Elizabeth Marshall MasterChef New Zealand Cheese Sauce Wellington

Béchamel 

  • 25g (88oz) Flour or cornflour
  • 25g (88oz) Butter
  • 375ml (1 1/2cup) Milk
  • Salt (if you’ve used unsalted butter)
  • Whatever ingredients you want to infuse the milk

Heat milk on medium-low heat to infuse whatever ingredients you choose. Do not boil!!! A classic combo is onion, bay leaf, a few cloves, dash of grated nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne. Once infused and flavoured to your liking, remove from heat and strain.

Melt butter with flour in a different pot over medium-low heat for a few minutes whisking constantly until sandy in texture. If you’re using cornflour the mixture won’t get to a sandy texture, instead it will look more like a runny paste. Remove from heat to cool.

Once cool gradually add warm milk while whisking and return to a low heat. Whisk until smooth and then simmer to desired consistency.

Enjoy!

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