Sauces play a major role in contributing flavor to any dish. Every sauce from a basic vinaigrette to a thick brown gravy enhance the foods they accompany. Even a simple pan sauce can transform a chicken breast or pork chop from ordinary to spectacular.
Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It can be used for a base to macaroni and cheese, alfredos, and cheese sauces. Once the actual bechamel is made any number of cheeses can be added to tailor the taste to the type of food you are serving. I like to add cheddar cheese for a sauce to use on top of potatoes or broccoli. Parmesan cheese is a good addition if making an alfredo sauce and gorgonzola makes a delicious sauce for beef.
Today I worked on my bechamel making skills and took a few tips from various sources to come up with the best looking white sauce I have had made. It was just thick enough, smooth, and creamy. I started the sauce by steeping a slice of onion and a bay leaf in the milk. This added a nice aroma and taste to the sauce. It was just slightly noticable in the final cheese sauce for today's macaroni.
1 slice onion
1 large bay leaf
2 cups milk
3 T butter
3 T flour
1/2 t salt
Place a small saucepan over medium-low heat with the milk, onion, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and then turn off the heat. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. In a round-bottomed pan melt butter. Add the flour and whisk together, let this bubble for about 2 minutes, making sure to stop before it turns color.
Slowly add the milk and rapidly whisk to incorporate all of the liquid. Bring it up to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Let this simmer for 5 minutes to cook out the flour taste and thicken the sauce. At this point you should taste the sauce and season it. If you are adding cheese to the sauce add it first and then adjust the salt to taste. (It took about 2 cups of extra-sharp cheddar to make this a cheese sauce for macaroni.)