Thursday, December 8, 2011

White Sauce--My Tips, Tricks and a Great Way to Use It (Mac 'n Cheese)

Last night I made a white sauce. I have made white sauces before and they just never seem to turn out the way they should. This was a white sauce for a big dinner party and it had 1 ½ sticks of butter in it, ¾ cups of flour, 7 ½ cups of milk, and 1 ½ cups of half & half, so if it did not work, it would mean a trip to the grocery store, so I was determined. It turned out perfectly. Here are my tips for making the perfect white sauce:

1)      Whisk!
Whisk, from the moment you add the flour to the butter and do not stop until it is nice and thick. If you are uncoordinated this might mean enlisting a helper to add ingredients. Whisk, scraping up the bits of flour and butter stuck to the bottom of the pan. Use a wire whisk and not a Teflon one as it just does the job better. If you have a lot of volume, it will take longer to get thick, so you could be whisking a long time (for me it was at least 15 to 20 minute process, but my recipe was tripled).

2)      Be Patient
I was on the phone asking my Mom, “What do I do if this does not get thicker? Do I add flour, cornstarch or butter?” She told me to be patient and keep on whisking. I tripled my recipe, and I expected the thickening time to be about triple that of the recipe, but it was taking even longer than that. I was beginning to get frustrated because nothing was happening. I would question myself as I looked at the sauce—is it getting thicker or am I just being hopeful? I whisked and whisked some more—and then all of the sudden the sauce changed. It turned from a frothy mixture that could barely coat the back of a spoon to this creamy thick wonder. So be patient. You will know when your sauce is properly thickened and just whisk away and await the transformation.

3)      Be mindful of heat.
During the first step when you are melting the butter, I recommend medium high heat, and definitely no more than that. You do not want the butter to burn or you will be repeating this step. You also don’t want the flour to scorch. When I added the milk, I definitely dropped the temperature a bit because I wanted it to slowly heat up and you do not want the milk to boil. As soon as it is nice and thick, turn off your heat.

Whole Milk
4) Use whole milk. I cannot stand drinking the stuff, however, if you want your white sauce to have a rich and creamy taste, milk with higher fat content will give you that flavor. I also cannot help but wonder how much the extra fat helps the sauce thicken up.

The following recipe would be great for making macaroni & cheese:

4 Tbs. of butter
4 Tbs. of flour
2 ½ cups whole milk (you could use lower fat, I used whole because I thought
Salt & Pepper to taste
½ cup of Half & Half (optional)
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese (or gruyere or Jarlsberg)

1)      In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour.  Let the mixture become golden and bubbly—whisk constantly for 3-5 minutes. Do not let it burn. Add salt & pepper.
2)      While whisking, slowly pour in the milk and half & half. Turn the temperature down just a bit. Keep on whisking until the mixture thickens. This could take anywhere from 2-6 minutes, although if you increase the volume of the recipe, it will take longer. Be patient! My Grandma June suggested adding the milk bit by bit rather than all at once and that sounded like a good idea to me.
3)      Once the sauce is thick, turn the heat off and stir in the shredded cheese.

To make macaroni & cheese, mix some cooked pasta (shells or macaroni) with the sauce, spread in a casserole dish and top with some shredded cheese and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350. Yeah—it is really bad for you, but we all deserve to indulge sometimes.

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