In the Top Chef Texas season there was a challenge where the chefs had to rework Escoffier’s “mother” sauces, one of which is béchamel. This is an awesome, versatile, easy sauce for the home cook. Once you learn to make this preparation you can make all sorts of creamy, gooey, cheesy things. It’s perfect for making casseroles, gratins, or to flavor and use as a sauce or creamed soup. Very simple and easy to make. Use this the next time you make macaroni and cheese and you’ll never make the Kraft one again. It’ll wow everyone.
Your basic béchamel sauce is a combination of roux and milk. Roux is flour and fat cooked together. Most roux use butter as the fat source. There’s a simple ratio here to remember when making your roux. According to Ruhlman’s book Ratio it’s 3 parts flour: 2 parts fat. And 1 part roux will thicken 10 parts liquid. That’s the power of a roux.
Making a roux is simple enough. Heat up your fat, add the flour, and cook until you’ve reached the desired smell and color. When I’m making the roux for béchamel I cook it until the flour is sand colored, just on the verge of turning really brown and it has a nutty aroma. Once you add the flour stir it around so it doesn’t burn, and cook for a few minutes.
Once your roux is ready add the liquid. I don’t think it’s very important to pre-heat your liquid but I’ve found it does speed the process up. Add your liquid, in this case milk, some salt to taste and whisk over med-high heat until the sauce thickens. It’s pretty amazing when it happens. Stir, stir, stir, stir, then BOOM! It thickens.
Now you can do lots of things. I like to add some grated cheese to make a cheese sauce for gratins or casseroles. As I said earlier it’s great for making macaroni and cheese. Lately I’ve been experimenting with gratins and have come up with a nice cauliflower one. One head of cauliflower, béchamel sauce, cheese, and bread crumbs. Simple, yet elegant. You know my position on truffle salt, truffle butter, and truffle gatherer’s sauce. This recipe begs for these to be included if you have them! If not, try to find some truffle cheese and use it. Trader Joe’s usually has some. To make a killer macaroni and cheese substitute about 3/4 box of cooked penne or fusilli for the cauliflower.
Creamy Truffled Cauliflower Gratin
- 1 head of cauliflower trimmed and sectioned
- 4 Tbs unsalted butter
- 6 Tbs flour
- 4 C milk
- Salt to taste
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Truffle gatherer’s sauce (optional but what an option!)
- ¾ C grated Gruyère cheese
- Bread crumbs (I like to use panko bread crumbs, very crunchy and hold up well in the oven!)
Pre-heat the oven to 375°.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add your cauliflower pieces and cook until tender. Cauliflower cooks pretty quickly so keep your eye on it. Drain and set aside.
Dry out your pot and set over med-high heat. Add the butter and melt, when it stops foaming add the flour and vigorously whisk into the butter, mixing well. Once your roux look like wet sand add your heated milk and stir with your whisk. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens. Between 5-10 minutes.
Add a pinch of nutmeg and ½ C of the grated cheese. Mix well until the cheese has been incorporated (melted) into the sauce. If you have some truffle gatherer’s sauce add about half to a full tsp here depending on your taste. Add salt to taste.
Put the drained cauliflower pieces into the sauce. Stir them in to coat well. Pour the cauliflower and sauce into a baking dish/casserole/gratin dish. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ C of cheese on top, then dust with the bread crumbs.
Put in oven and bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes until top gets golden. (You can also brown it under a broiler)