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Expand your repertoire with a basic white sauce recipe

The easiest white sauce recipe requires just a little care. Once you are confident that you can achieve a smooth and silky white sauce, it's time to tweak the recipe. The basic butter, flour and milk combination is the foundation for some of the delicate and highly-flavoured sauces that feature in classic French cuisine.

Flour power

A white sauce recipe begins with the basics: butter, milk and flour. Don't be tempted to use a butter substitute unless you want the results to be I Can't Believe It's Not White Sauce. Use equal weights of butter and plain flour, with 25g of each and a pint of milk being enough to make enough sauce for an average family meal.

Melt the butter over a moderate heat and stir in the flour for around two minutes to make a roux. Don't worry if the mixture starts to turn a nutty brown. Add the milk gradually and bring to the boil, mixing all the time, until you have a smooth consistency. Simmer for ten minutes or so to cook the flour through.

This white sauce can be used, with a little pepper or nutmeg, as a dressing for asparagus or as a key layer in a meaty lasagne, but usually it is the starting point for a more elaborate sauce.

A bechamel is a minor variation on the white sauce recipe, with bay leaf, onion and peppercorns steeping in the milk to impart flavour before it is added to the roux.

Add cheese for an old-fashioned British dish like cauliflower cheese or to accompany macaroni. Thickened white sauce can be blended with chopped chicken, ham or fish, then breaded and fried to make Spanish-style croquettes.

Add parsley, capers or a hint of tarragon to make a simple sauce for fish.

Troubleshooting

Even if you follow the basic white sauce recipe, occasionally things will go awry. If the sauce is lumpy, it can be rescued by pushing it through a sieve and continuing to cook steadily until it is smooth. Silky sauces are necessary for fish, but if your white sauce is for a lasagne, don't agonise too much if it isn't perfect.

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