The other day, a friend and I were outside of school, talking about cooking. I told her how excited I was that Easter was coming, because I love creamed eggs and we’ve made them an Easter tradition at our house. “I’d love to make creamed eggs,” she told me. “But I can’t make white sauce to save my life.” I proceeded to assure her how easy it was, but she was having none of it. Hers came out lumpy and bland and was always either too thin or too thick.
I don’t have a lot of wisdom to impart to the cooking world but there are one or two things at which I am VERY skilled. White sauce is one of those things. And after talking to several people, I found that the making of white sauce seems to be a bone of contention for many of them. My mother taught me to make white sauce when I was very young. We used it a lot and so both my mother and I got to hone our craft.
Now, I’m going to tell you how to make perfect white sauce every time and what to do with it when you’re done. Just three ingredients and just three steps. It’s simple, really. Flawless. And oh, so delicious!
You only need three things to make white sauce: Flour, milk and butter or margarine. You may add seasonings such as salt and pepper if you like, but it’s not required. The amount of butter and flour must be completely equal or the sauce will fail. The way I make it is, I dig a hunk of butter out of the tub and throw it in the pot. Then I add an equal amount of flour. I start stirring and adding tiny dabs of milk until the sauce is almost to a boil and as thick as I want it. I’ve been doing this for a long time.
Not everybody has made 50,000 batches of white sauce and so they might not be able to just toss the stuff together and have it work. But everyone CAN make white sauce and have it turn out perfectly. People make several mistakes that can ruin a good white sauce. So, to eliminate at least 50% of the possible errors, here are the most important things to avoid:
1. Use a whisk. Not a fork or a spoon, never a mixer. Just a whisk
2. Never stop stirring. Never.
3. Never use too high or too low heat. Not low, not high…only medium.
4. Do not allow the sauce to cool. Do not reheat it. Once it is done, use it immediately. Allowing white sauce (or any sauce or gravy for that matter) to cool will allow it to develop a skin. When you reheat it, the skin never completely dissolves and will create lumps.
5. Don’t rush it. Begin each step ONLY when the previous step has been completed. Do not try to force the butter to melt or pour in the flour or milk too quickly.
Now, to begin, you need a good sized pot. We’ll be making 2 cups of white sauce, so decide what size pot you think you need, and use one size larger. When you start stirring the pot, you’ll thank me for this. Seriously, I never use anything smaller than a 4 quart pot. It is taller than wide, and has a sturdy handle. This is imperative.
Place 4 tablespoons of butter or margarine in the pot, turn the heat on medium, and let the butter melt. Make sure to stir it occasionally. You don’t want the butter to scorch.
Once the butter is completely melted and no bits remain, add 4 tablespoons of flour to the butter. I find that any flour will work, especially all-purpose flour. Now, begin stirring. Make sure that all the flour is incorporated into the butter, with no dusty bits remaining. Blend it in by stirring gently, making sure to scrape down the sides of the pot. Don’t worry if it becomes crumbly or turns into balls.
Add 2 cups milk gradually. I cannot stress how slowly you should add the milk. I usually start off by adding a tiny dab (no more than three tablespoons worth) and stirring constantly to work it into the butter/flour mixture, thus thinning it. Keep stirring vigorously, working down from the sides, and making certain to cover the entire bottom of the pot with good, firm strokes. Continue adding the milk, a bit at a time, sloooooowly and stirring all the while. It will seem to alternate between thin and thick, but once all the milk is added and the final thickening occurs, the sauce is done. You may then add salt and pepper to taste.
Now you have this wonderful, creamy, rich sauce in your pan, but what do you do with it? Well, here are a few ideas:
You can add chopped eggs and make Creamed Eggs to be served over toast. If you add just the white, then pour it over toast and press the yolks through a sieve as garnish, this is known as Goldenrod Eggs.
You can add dried beef and make Creamed Chipped Beef on toast (see a trend?) also known as Sh*t On a Shingle.
You can add mushrooms and ham (or chicken) and make Ham (or Chicken) a la King
You can add an equal amount of chicken gravy, some peas, carrots and chopped chicken, bake it all in a crust and call it chicken pot pie
You can add cheese and a bit more pepper and have a wonderfully creamy cheese sauce
The possibilities are endless. I use white sauce as the basis for a lot of my casseroles, and even some of my crock pot recipes. It’s very versatile and as long as you abide by those few simple rules, you’ll end up with a perfect white sauce, every….single….time.