If you recognized this line, then you’ve seen one of my all time favorite foodie movies – “Fried Green Tomatoes”, and I think the phrase is so true. Even if you’ve prepared your fish, chicken, beef, or pork correctly, a poorly prepared sauce can ruin that perfectly cooked protein. Now if you remember what “the secret’s in the sauce” referred to (though maybe we shouldn’t dwell too much on that!), the same can be said about sauces in the reverse. A well-prepared sauce can help mask your fish, chicken, etc., that didn’t come out so perfectly or better yet, just give new life to some of your everyday grilled meats!
My family loves sauces on everything. In fact, sometimes they love the sauce of the dish so much that they don’t even pay attention to what it was meant to be used for! These days, their favorite sauce is what they refer to as “Mom’s white sauce” which in reality is just a basic Béchamel (pronounced “bay-sha-mel”) sauce that has had cheese added to it.
Did I mention that Béchamel is one of the five basic “mother sauces” in French cooking? The name is definitely much more difficult to say than it is to prepare so don’t stop reading this because you think that you could never learn to make a French sauce. That’s what I used to think. Back in my early cooking days, I translated “French” to mean “very complicated recipe, don’t even bother trying”. That’s not the case here. Believe me; you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with this sauce. Here’s the recipe. Try it out!
- 3 tablespoons (or 1 ½ oz) butter
- 1 ½ oz flour
- 1 cup milk
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup to ¾ cup Grated Parmesan and/or Gruyere cheese (add more or less to your taste)
- Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
- Melt butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Add flour and stir. Mixture will resemble a paste.
- Add milk and stir with a whisk till paste is completely incorporated into the milk. There should be no lumps!
- Continue to stir with whisk as you bring the mixture to a boil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir in parmesan and/or gruyere till the cheese is completely incorporated into the mixture. Sauce will thicken when the cheese is added and should look fairly smooth.
- Add a dash of cayenne if you want to spice it up!
- Don’t forget! Keep tasting your sauce as you go.
This sauce is wonderful with just about any kind of pasta. What I like to do to “fancy” it up a bit is to take cooked pasta like ziti or penne and put enough for one or two servings in a small sauté pan, add a couple of ladles of the sauce, then add sliced grilled chicken. Stir it gently together in the pan till the ingredients are heated all the way through and then serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan sprinkled on top. Prefer seafood? In a pinch I’ve used “peel & eat” shrimp you find in the frozen seafood section at the grocery store (be sure to defrost the shrimp completely before using), added it to my pasta and sauce and again, stirred till completely heated through. Voila! Two entrées – one sauce and the possibilities are endless!
One other thing I forgot to mention. The recipe above was a Béchamel, up to the point before any cheese was added. Per the old French cooking rules, once you add cheese to a Béchamel, the sauce is then called a Mornay. One recipe just turned into two. How’s that for simple?