Why Patience Is The Key To Perfectly Smooth Béchamel

Béchamel is one of the five French mother sauces that every cook should master (via Food 52). Not only is it the foundation for many classic French dishes, but the sauce adds a level of lusciousness to multiple recipes and styles of cuisine. The addition of Béchamel greatly enhances a traditional Italian lasagna, adds a lovely creaminess to the Greek eggplant, lamb, and potato casserole known as moussaka, adds a velvetiness to scalloped potatoes, and is even the base for classic mac and cheese – or any cheese sauce for that matter.

The versatile sauce is made by thickening milk with a butter and flour mixture known as a roux. The concept is fairly simple, but if the process gets rushed you could be left with a lumpy, starchy sauce that is hard to bounce back from. That's why patience is paramount when making a perfectly smooth béchamel sauce.

Low and slow is key

Many factors play a role in achieving a perfect béchamel sauce, like using the correct ratio of flour to fat in the roux, cooking the roux long enough to avoid the sauce tasting starchy, and using room temperature or warmed milk. But more than anything, making a béchamel requires patience.

According to The Kitchn, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is adding all of your milk at once, noting that this is especially true when it comes to cold milk. They suggest warming your milk in the microwave for one to two minutes and adding only a quarter of the milk to start, whisking vigorously to get any lumps out of the roux before slowly adding the remaining milk.

Fine Dining Lovers emphasizes that low and slow is the key to a perfect béchamel sauce. They recommend going easy on the heat, cooking the roux over low heat and slowly increasing to medium when adding the milk. If the heat is too high you may scorch the milk before everything is properly combined. Fine Dining Lovers also notes that if the heat is too high you may split or curdle the sauce. This happens when the proteins separate from the milk and form curds — something you definitely don't want in a sauce.

There's a reason they call patience a virtue, and while we may be a society used to instant gratification, taking your time — whether making béchamel sauce or just going about your everyday life — will result in better things in the long run.