White, white and more white! Snow, that is. It soon must be time for spring. This, then, is the perfect time to reflect on white. White sauce, that is.
In reality, all cooking consists of but a few basic procedures. Today we are going to discuss the beauty of the white sauce. I have had the pleasure of seeing several renowned chefs in person. Of course, with the cooking channel so available, we all can glean from these masters of the spoon and whisk.
Much of the expertise of the cook rests solely on his or her ability to master and exercise techniques. Once they have been perfected and practiced, so that they are as common as chair legs in the dining room, it possible to tackle any recipe and have success. If you take the time to break down very elaborate dishes, you will soon discover that they are snippets of various techniques that are the foundation to good cooking.
Charles Repnow is a freelance writer who lives in Rugby. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays in The Minot Daily News.
An excellent case in point of this in the Rugby community is the oil coleslaw and the pasta salad made by "be-in-awe cook," Theresa Wangler. She has perfected the technique of the just the right amount of oil, vinegar and sugar for her timeless coleslaw. My goodness -- the blending of the cream dressing on her pasta salad is surely a velvet classic. Tomatoes can only hope they end up in this salad. You can bet Theresa is not talking on her cell phone when the combinations of these ingredients come together. Rather she is bringing forth her mastered and well-exercised technique, which results in super gastronomy for all guests gathered around her table.
So go ahead and put away your can opener because your white sauce today will not be coming from a combination of canned soup and milk. Let us begin our technique for white sauce.
Melt 1/2 stick or 1/4 cup butter. Teaspoon by teaspoon, add 1/4 cup flour.
If you dump all the flour in at once, you will end up with a pasty and floury-tasting sauce. Your guests will then be giving you compliments on the word art that hangs above your piano rather than your meal, and we don't want that, do we? Also note that when melting butter, stand by at full attention. We do not have the heat on high.
So over low heat and with constant stirring, stir until it foams. Next you will gradually add 2 cups scalded milk or cream and cook the mixture, stirring robustly with a wire whisk, until thick and smooth. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
Now the beauty of mastering this technique of white sauce is that you can vary it in the following ways.
Rich White Sauce
To 1 cup white sauce, add 1 or 2 eggs yolks which have been sitting at room temperature. Beat heartily after each addition. Then simply reheat the sauce without boiling.
Thin White Sauce
Use the recipe for making white sauce, but use 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour for each cup of milk or cream. I often use half-and-half with wonderful results.
Thick White Sauce
Follow the recipe for making white sauce, but use 3 to 4 tablespoons each of butter and flour for each cup of milk or cream.
These white sauces may be used in making a variety of dishes such as macaroni mixtures. Often when making lasagna, I often layer a white sauce with my red sauce. The result is lasagna that is not too runny and stands firmly when plated.
Another sauce I which to share with you is Bechamel Sauce. Once again the technique used in making white sauce comes forth here. This is rich with onion and additional spices.
In a saucepan, saute 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion in 2 tablespoons butter until onion is just soft. Add 2 tablespoons flour and mix well. Cook this roux slowly, stirring with attention until it turns lightly golden. Add gradually 3 cups scalded milk and cook the mixture -- stirring briskly until it is thick and smooth. To finish, add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 peppercorns, a spring of parsley, and if you desire, a pinch of nutmeg. Cook the sauce slowly while constantly stirring for about 30 minutes. For a velvet touch, strain the bechamel through a fine sieve. This will make about 2 cups. This works well for lasagna that has been layered with spinach.
We can move on to Mornay Sauce. This sauce is richer because of the added cheese and it works well with fish, poultry, poached eggs, and many macaroni mixtures. You may also select to serve this over fresh steamed vegetables lightly.
Mix 3 lightly beaten eggs with a little cream and combine them with 2 cups hot bechamel sauce. Cook the sauce, stirring constantly, until it reaches the boiling point. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and grated Parmesan or Swiss cheese. You might choose to use this sauce as a topping for creamed foods that are to be browned in the oven. I consider this to be a finishing sauce when you want to add the special touch.
I encourage you to try these sauces and to perfect your technique of making basic white sauce. You may think of these sauces as rich -- which they are. However, when used in moderation, they delight our taste buds. We also must realize that when making sauces with canned soups, they are much more laden with salt. So getting to know these basic sauces can add much flavor and variety to your cooking repertoire. Happy whisking!