Foundation Sauces: How to Make, Use, and Pair Béchamel & Velouté Sauces

I first learned about “mother sauces” during one of Etta Sawyer’s Foundation cooking classes at her Academy of Culinary Arts. It was my final year of a food & nutrition degree at university and I was working part time for Etta, who periodically ran classes in the back of her gourmet cookware store.

We can thank French chefs in the 1700s for identifying five basic mother sauces - béchamel, espagnole, hollandaise, tomato and velouté - that are used to create many more secondary sauces. Some are perfect for home cooks while others are better suited to professional chefs or have fallen out of popularity.

The two sauces I use on a regular basis are béchamel and velouté. While béchamel contains milk and veloué uses stock, both are thickened with a roux.

Start by Making a Roux

A classic roux (pronounced “roo”) has an equal amount of two ingredients: fat, usually butter, and flour.

Melt 2 tablespoons/30 mL butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons/30 mL flour and cook stirring consistently with a wooden spoon or flat whisk. In about five minutes, you will have a white or as Etta called it a blonde roux. This is what you will use to make béchamel sauce.

By cooking the fat and flour together, you avoid a raw, pasty flour taste in your dish. Let the roux cool slightly before gradually adding 1 cup/250 mL liquid, stirring consistently. The roux thicken thickens the liquid producing a silky-smooth sauce.

Roux for Gravy

If you want to use the roux for gravy, cook it a little longer until the colour changes to a light to medium brown. This is called a dark roux and will have a deeper, slightly nutty flavour.

Tip: Etta used roux so often that she would make a cup at a time and keep it in a dish in the refrigerator. I usually double or triple the amount needed in the recipe and refrigerate the remainder so it’s ready for the next recipe of two.

Simple Béchamel (pronounced “BAY-shə-mel”) or white sauce

Béchamel is the perfect base for MACARONI and cheese

Béchamel is the perfect base for MACARONI and cheese

  • Make a roux by melting 2 tablespoons/30 mL butter over medium-low heat

  • Sprinkle 2 tablespoons/30 mL flour over the butter and cook, stirring consistently

  • Warm 1 -1/4 cup/300mL milk until small bubbles form around the edge

  • Slowly add milk, whisking consistently

  • Cook over medium heat until sauce bubbles and thickens

  • Makes 1-1/4 cup/300 mL sauce

Enhancements to Béchamel Sauce

  • Fresh ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, ground nutmeg or chopped herbs

  • Fnely diced onion or shallots

  • 1/2-cup/125 mL grated cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere or crumbled goat or blue cheese

Perfect Used In …

  • Macaroni & cheese, chicken pot pie, scalloped potatoes, spinach gratin, Moussaka and chowders

Guiding Principles for Pairing Rich/Creamy Dishes with Wine:

  • To help offset the richness of the sauce choose a sparkling wine (the bubbles cut through the fat from the butter or cream) or a crisp, refreshing white wine

  • For a flavour and textural match, choose a lush Chardonnay that has spent time in an oak barrel or even a lighter red

Velouté (prounounced “vuh-loo-TAY”) is also considered a white sauce. However, instead of milk, it is made with chicken stock, making it a great non-dairy alternative. It is normally not served by itself but is used as the base for many other sauces.

Simple Velouté Sauce

  • Make a roux by melting 2 tablespoons/30 mL butter over medium-low heat

  • Sprinkle 2 tablespoons/30 mL flour over the butter and cook, stirring consistently

  • Slowly add 2 cups/500 mL chicken stock, whisking consistently

  • Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes and sauce bubbles and thickens

  • Makes 2 cups/500 mL


white wine_glasses.jpg
  • White wine, lemon juice and parsley

  • Horseradish, cream and mustard

  • Tomato puree

  • Diced sautéed onions and paprika

  • Sautéed mushrooms, salt and white pepper (add cream and you have Supreme sauce)

Guiding Principles for Pairing Velouté-based dishes with Wine:

  • Balance dishes with an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice or tomato, with a crisp, refreshing wine such as Riesling or Pinot Grigio

  • Complement dishes with more intensely flavoured ingredients or cream, with a softer, rounder wine to such as Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc