The Unexpected Cooking Method That Can Prevent Burnt Béchamel

Most societies have culinary customs, and you can bet they include several gravy and sauce traditions. Some have fancier reputations than others, particularly those with French names like béchamel. This creamy, white creation is one of the five French mother sauces established in the 1800s by chef Auguste Escoffier, which include three whites and two reds: béchamel, hollandaise, velouté, espagnole, and tomate. Each requires a bit of expertise to create, especially the revered béchamel.

Béchamel sauce seems simple, as it only has three ingredients that are common in almost any kitchen: flour, butter, and milk. But it's what you do with these components that makes all the difference. In particular, the tricky part of making béchamel is getting the heat just right. If it's too high, the heat scorches the sauce, and uneven heat distribution could result in curdled milk or a lumpy rather than velvety texture. 

Fortunately, there's a solution for that. It's a simple, small kitchen appliance that many home chefs already own: a flat-top griddle. Most commonly used for making pancakes, a griddle is long with a smooth surface and shallow rims, making it a perfect heated base for holding a saucepan. When making béchamel in the saucepan, the griddle underneath becomes an indirect heat source, lessening the chance of scorched or lumpy sauce.

Making béchamel with an electric or stovetop griddle

Making béchamel sauce in a pan placed atop a griddle takes a lot of pressure off the process. The saucepan holding the three béchamel ingredients provides the necessary degree of removal from a primary heat source, leaving the chef free to concentrate on perfecting the sauce instead of worrying about burning it. That said, it's important to note the different types of griddles. Unless you have a built-in griddle on your stove, you'll be using either an electric or stovetop griddle. 

There's a smaller griddle pan that covers a single stovetop burner, or a standard pancake-style stovetop griddle spreading over two burners. Either can work for holding the béchamel saucepan, but these griddle types can still be susceptible to uneven heating. A better choice is a freestanding electric griddle that's long and spacious. The entire flat surface heats to an even temperature, which transfers to the saucepan in which you'll make the béchamel sauce. 

All the other béchamel-making standards still apply when employing the griddle method, such as using a low heat setting while cooking the sauce. After carefully making the roux out of flour and butter, slowly add in hot milk, which facilitates the smooth, creamy texture that defines this sauce. Now, it's ready for making soufflés, soups, lasagna, moussaka, savory pies, and more. Béchamel is also the essential base for creating other rich and tasty sauces such as Mornay, soubise, and classic cream sauce.