If there are two extremely vital sauces which every fine cook should know, they would be gravy and nacho cheese.
“But wait!” you may say. “I want to cook at a nice restaurant, not Momma’s Pie House. Nothing against Momma’s, that is, just… you know. Gravy??”
Well, here’s the beautiful thing about those two sauces: they’re both based on béchamel, one of the four classic sauces. Where’s it from? France, of course, and it was named after a steward for Louis XIV. Can’t get any fancier than that.
It’s surprising, really, how many common things we associate with junk food or ball park eats or what-have-you and, truth be told, those exact things have very austere origins.
Bechamel is a beautiful sauce in its simplicity, and white gravy is almost exactly the same. Milk, butter, flour. Add some black pepper, maybe some sausage, you’ve got a great biscuit topping. Add some sautéed shallots instead, a bit of white wine and maybe some truffle oil? Same sauce, sure – but now with a totally different flavor profile.
Now, take that béchamel, add some cheese, and you’ve got a mornay (this week's episode). If you use cheddar, maybe a bit of American cheese, some canned tomatoes and jalapenos, you’ve got a damn good nacho cheese sauce. But what if you, instead, use some gruyere instead? Pour it over a toasted baguette with some thin sliced, quick seared ham? Well, now you’ve got a croque monsieur, one of the best sandwiches in the world. A sandwich that’s a tad bit fancier than, say, nachos. Or if you use some blue cheese and pour it over a chateaubriand? Top that. I dare you.
So if there’s one thing to take away from all this, learn the béchamel – it’s like a Swiss-army knife, tons of uses both fancy, and homey.
1Qt HEAVY CREAM
SALT & PEPPER
1 DICED SHALLOT (OPTIONAL)
Melt butter in a sauce pot, when melted the flour is added. The mixture is stirred until the flour is incorporated, and then cooked until at least the point where a raw flour taste is no longer apparent about 2 minutes. Slowly add the cream stirring constantly to a smooth consistency. Simmer about 5-8 minutes. If sauce gets to thick just thin to desired consistency by adding more cream.
If using the shallots add in with the butter and cook about 1 minute.
Remember this sauce is a base for many other sauces.
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