If there’s one thing that’s true about SoupAddict—aside from the fact that she loves soup. And bacon—it’s that she doesn’t stand on ceremony. No, no, there’s no ceremony-standin’ in SoupAddict’s life. She dabbles recklessly with other people’s proven recipes. She speaks in run-on sentences, usually to herself. She starts carrot seeds indoors for transplanting outdoors when all conventional wisdom says not to. She ends sentences with prepositions.
No, there’s nothing formal about SoupAddict whatsoever. Especially in the kitchen. Years ago, if you had asked SoupAddict to explain the difference between a Béchamel and a Mornay, she would’ve answered, “Well, Beckhamel is a British soccer player, and mornay is an eel.” [And then she'd mentally add, 'Idiot,' to the end of her answer and return to playing Burgertime on Intellivision.]
Those were innocent days. But since then, SoupAddict has acquired herself some of that thar knowledge, gleaned from book learnin’ and the Interwebs. And now, God help us all, she not only knows what Béchamel and Mornay actually are, but she can prepare and pronounce them properly. Observe:
[SoupAddict will pause while you mentally express how impressed you are by SoupAddict's gleaned knowledge.]
“Roux,” by the way, is pronounced “roo,” as in rue, not “rux,” as in Teddy Ruxpin Bear.
But however you pronounce them—and, really, SoupAddict doesn’t care, because she’s not a ceremony-standin’ type of girl—they are the building blocks of French cuisine and many a delicious dish, including thick soups and macaroni and cheese. And they’re scads easier to make than pronounce.
A basic roux is super easy. Two steps, if you don’t count stirring as a step. One: melt butter (or other fat) over medium heat.
Two: add same amount of flour as butter. Allow to cook for a bit while stirring to remove the raw flour flavor.
Done. Add to your soup, sauce or gravy, and watch the thickening goodness begin.
Now on to the Béchamel (also known as white sauce). Start with the roux. Add a splash of warmed or scalded milk, cream or half-and-half.
Stir to form a thick paste, completely incorporating the roux.
Add more dairy.
Stir some more. You’re adding the dairy in small batches so that the thickened sauce will form faster than it would by just dumping all of the dairy in at once.
When the sauce is thick but creamy and bubbling, add salt and pepper. Stir. Done.
To make a Mornay, start with the Béchamel, stir in grated cheese until melted. Done.
Traditional Mornays use Gruyère and Parmesan, but, really, the sky’s the limit. That’s SoupAddict’s philosophy. Gruyère and havarti and/or sharp white cheddar is a particularly favorite combination.
SoupAddict used white cheeses for this demonstration, so the sauce is white (not orange), but make no mistake, this is some delicious cheese sauce. No matter how it’s pronounced.
The thickness of the sauce is a direct result of the proportion of flour to liquids. A medium-thick sauce consists of 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons flour to 1 cup of dairy. Use more flour/fat to create a thicker sauce.
Other delicious additives:
To the Roux:
- minced onions*
- rendered bacon fat (replacing part or all of the butter)
- clarified butter (instead of regular butter)
To the Béchamel:
- a pinch of cayenne pepper
- white pepper
- dried ground mustard
- prepared dijon mustard
- dry sherry
- freshly grated nutmeg
- whole cloves*
- bay leaf*
To the Mornay:
- Worchestershire sauce
- egg yolk
*Note: when adding any ingredient that will not dissolve into or mix completely with the sauce, make sure you strain the sauce through a sieve at the end of the Béchamel stage to remove any solids.