Project Sauce: Veloute with “Blue Plate Special”

I am realizing, as I continue this sauce project, how few of the sauces I’m examining are used “as-is.” Most, including this month’s velouté – the last of the flour-thickened sauces I’ll explore (next month we move on to eggs. I’m scared!) – are made as a base. They are, after all, “mother” sauces, so called not just because they are quite common, but because they are literally mothers: foundations that give birth to more complex sauces.

Food Blog March 2014-3496Velouté is very similar to béchamel, with the exception that here the roux (butter and flour cooked together) thickens a stock or broth, not milk. The stock in question is most commonly chicken or fish stock, which also tells you with which products it is most frequently served. To be technically correct, the stock or broth is supposed to be “white,” that is, made with bones that have not been previously roasted. However, I wasn’t about to make a special batch of stock just for this application, so I dug into my freezer and emerged with some icy golden goodness I’d made from roasting a chicken some months ago. Not exactly traditional (I so rarely am, after all), but manageable for our purposes.

Recipes for velouté vary slightly on particulars. Some begin with mire poix (a French vegetable base consisting of diced onions, carrots, and celery), some recommend herbal accompaniments, some advocate finishing the sauce with a splash of cream, and the quantities of salt and pepper a cook should add differ depending on whose authority you accept. Some recommend adding heated stock to the roux, some call for the roux to be plopped into the heated stock. Either way, you essentially make a roux, combine it with the stock, whisk assertively to banish lumps, and settle in for a long, slow simmer during which time the sauce reduces, thickens, and develops flavor. Velouté means “velvet,” and when your sauce is done simmering you will understand why: it is so silky and fluidly pourable and soft. Mine was a pale matte gold, not quite thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but sufficiently concentrated to pour in a solid stream rather than a liquid dribble. It smelled incredible – rich and meaty and flavorful – like midafternoon on Thanksgiving, the first time you open the oven to let the turkey aroma escape.

Food Blog March 2014-3486Yet for all its depth of flavor, prolonged cooking time, and high heritage, I couldn’t help but feel comforted by this sauce. There is something fundamentally homey and familiar about it. I realize Escoffier, the father of modern French cooking, will roll over in his grave when I write this, but it’s basically a simple gravy.

In restaurants, it was traditional to have a pot of velouté simmering away, ready to be dipped into to create more complex sauces and flavor bases. I wanted to keep things simple and pure, though, to really understand the sauce and its flavor, so I only made a slight adjustment.

I’ve got two recipes for you. This week, I’m celebrating velouté for its simplicity. Next week I’ll share a preparation that turns this rich, velvety sauce into something a bit more complex, but superbly tasty and comforting.

Food Blog March 2014-3493For the first, capitalizing on velouté’s similarity to a simple poultry gravy, I considered meals that incorporate such a familiar staple, and ended up with a sort of blue plate special: crispy chicken cutlet, buttery smashed potatoes, and lightly steamed green beans.

I often try to trace my thought process as I put dishes together, since the influences I’m incorporating aren’t always obvious. One of the derivatives of velouté is called sauce allemande, which includes egg yolk and mushrooms added near the end of the cooking time. To give this a nod, I decided to incorporate sautéed mushrooms to my sauce. Leery of the egg yolk idea, though, I transferred it to my chicken instead, dusting the breasts with flour and then dipping them in beaten egg before giving them a crisp coating. The mushrooms reminded me of my mom’s rice pilaf, which includes sautéed mushrooms and toasted almonds. Almonds seemed like a good pairing for the chicken, so I chopped them fine and combined them with panko. Almonds are equally nice with green beans, as are mushrooms, so the dish was starting to look cohesive, especially once I imagined my fragrant sauce kissing the whole thing.

Food Blog March 2014-3481Food Blog March 2014-3482Deep and rich thanks to its prolonged simmer, and silky smooth from the flour granules just bursting with all that liquid, this velouté made me realize why the judges on Chopped (don’t laugh, it’s my favorite guilty pleasure show) are always on about how important it is to have a sauce accompanying your dish. This enhanced all of the existing flavors on our plates. I kept going back for different combinations: sauce with chicken, chicken and sauce with potatoes, potatoes and sauce with green beans. All good. It really, as the Dude might have put it, tied the dish together.  Food Blog March 2014-3495

Basic Velouté
Makes about 2 cups
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups chicken stock or broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup sliced, sautéed mushrooms


  • Heat the broth or stock in a medium saucepan until it comes to the barest simmer.
  • In a small skillet, melt the butter. When it is just melted, sprinkle in the flour and immediately combine with a whisk. I find sprinkling the flour around the skillet, rather than dumping it all in one place, makes for easier combining.
  • Cook the butter and flour together for a minute or two, whisking the whole time, until it takes on the consistency of a loose paste. You’ve now made a blond roux – minimal color, but maximum thickening power.
  • Either scrape the roux directly into the warm stock, or pour the stock slowly into the pan with the roux. Either way, whisk constantly to prevent clumping.
  • Simmer over low to medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes, whisking frequently to break up any lingering clumps or surface residue, until the liquid is slightly thickened, rich, and smells meaty. During this time, it will reduce by about a cup, leaving you with approximately two cups of sauce. You really do need to cook it for this long to achieve the desired consistency and depth of flavor.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Just before serving, stir in the sliced, sautéed mushrooms and warm through.



Sauce Velouté with “Blue Plate Special”
Serves 2
2 chicken breast cutlets (thin cuts of boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg
1 cup panko bread crumbs
½ cup sliced almonds, finely chopped
Olive oil, to cook chicken
2 large Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup heavy cream
½ pound green beans, stem ends trimmed
1 recipe velouté with mushrooms
Additional salt and pepper to taste


For the chicken:

  • First, set up a breading station. I like to use two large plates and a pie pan for this. On one of the plates, combine the flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and spread it out to cover the entire plate. If you want additional or different spices, this is your chance to personalize. On the other plate, combine the panko and almonds. Sprinkle some salt and pepper in there as well, if you wish, and again, spread the mixture out for even coverage. In the pie pan, crack the egg and beat it up with a fork. Set these out in order: flour, egg, breading (see above photographs for reference).
  • Preheat the oven to 300F so that the cutlets can stay warm while you cook other elements of the dinner. Place a baking tray with a wire cooling rack on it in the middle of the oven.
  • Now, take a look at your cutlets. We want them no thicker than ½ an inch so they can cook quickly without burning the almonds in the breading. If they are that thin, great. Skip to the next step. If they are thicker, we need to pound them out. To do this, place one cutlet at a time in an unsealed plastic zip-top bag, or just wrap it loosely in plastic wrap. With a meat mallet, a rolling pin, or a heavy saucepan, pound the chicken by beating it with steady, forceful hits that push toward the outer edges of the breast. In other words, you’re not just punching straight down. You’re striking at a slight angle, from the middle toward the outer edges, which helps the meat spread without tearing.
  • When your chicken breasts are evenly ½ an inch thick, it’s time to bread them. Working one at a time, dredge the cutlet in the seasoned flour, pressing it with your fingers to ensure even coating. Flip it over and dredge the other side. Repeat with the egg, then with the panko and almonds, again being sure you press it in firmly to help the breading adhere.
  • Heat a good slick of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once it is glistening, add the first cutlet, placing it down in the middle of the pan and then not moving it for four minutes.
  • After four minutes – no cheating! – peek at the underside of the cutlet. The breading should be golden and crisp but not burned, and thanks to being left undisturbed, not peeling and crumbling off the chicken! Flip the cutlet and sizzle on the other side for another four minutes until cooked through and crisp.
  • While you are cooking this cutlet, dredge and bread the second one.
  • When the first cutlet is golden brown and crisp on both sides, carefully move it from the skillet to your prepared, preheated oven tray. It is already fully cooked (at least it should be, if you’ve pounded it to a true ½ inch), so this will keep it warm and crispy until both pieces are done.
  • Repeat this cooking process with the second cutlet. If you need more time to prepare the rest of dinner, as I always do, these will hold in the warm oven for 15 minutes or so. You don’t want to go much longer than that, lest they dry out, but I was delighted by how moist ours still were.


For the potatoes:

  • Cut the potatoes into small, even sized chunks – the smaller you cut them, the faster they will cook. Plop them into a pot with plenty of salted water, then cover and set over high heat.
  • Bring the water to a boil, and cook, stirring once or twice if the water threatens to boil over, until the potato chunks are fork-tender. Depending on how small you’ve cut your potatoes, this could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
  • When the potatoes are done, drain into a colander and set aside.
  • Place the pot back on the stove over medium-low heat and add the butter and cream.
  • As the butter melts and the cream heats, put the drained potato chunks back into the pot and stir to combine. Using a potato masher or the determined back of a spoon, smash up the potatoes to your desired consistency. I like mine just a little chunky, with the thin skins still in there. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


For the green beans:

  • Heat a pan of salted water to a simmer.
  • Add the beans, stem ends trimmed, and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until they reach your desired tenderness. We like them crisp-tender.
  • Drain the green beans, then return to the empty pan over medium heat with a slick of olive oil or a small knob of butter. Cook, tossing occasionally to distribute the fat, for a minute or two.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice or a tiny splash of white wine if desired.


To serve:

  • Consider your plate like a clock face. Position a scoop of mashed potatoes at 9 o’clock. Lay the green beans out in a curved little stack along the top few hours: let’s say 11-1. Now, lay the chicken breast partially atop the mashed potatoes, angling it from 9 down to 5.
  • Pour the warm, mushroom-spiked velouté over the chicken and the potatoes, so it slides and settles, gravy-like. Serve immediately to retain the crispness of the chicken coating.

Project Sauce: Gnocchi and Broccoli with Blistered Sauce Mornay

Food Blog February 2014-3291I think a lot about what I put on this blog – the content, the recipes, the types of food – and this often leads me down a rabbit-hole of consideration about what kind of blog this is. Perhaps because I’m an academic, or maybe just because I watch an awful lot of food TV, this frequently kindles an urge in me to categorize what I do here, to define myself and my food. This is not a baking blog, though I produce a lot of baked goods. It’s not a dessert blog or a gluten-free blog or a vegan blog or a comfort foods blog, and it’s certainly not an “easy and fast” blog… what is it? To figure out if I’m doing what I’m doing well, I feel I have to know what it is that I do.

Food Blog February 2014-3260And yet at the same time, that same academic part of me that studied too much post-structuralism in graduate school screams “No! Don’t limit yourself! Don’t draw yourself into a box! Categories are restricting. Categories are unnecessary. Categories are a lie.”

Food Blog February 2014-3266True enough. Too often, categories are a lie. They lead me into grandiose, Walt Whitman-esque resistance. And yet, because blogging is, by being essentially writing, an experiment of selfness, in order to better understand myself, I have to better understand what I do here.

Food Blog February 2014-3268And maybe that’s it. Rather than stating what this is, blocking myself into a stationary category that may someday become too small for my own swelling and developing, maybe it’s better to talk about what I do, and what this blog does.

Food Blog February 2014-3272Here’s my latest approximation: I re-imagine classics. Not the most original or most creative, I assure you, and not always strictly true, but I think it’s a pretty good explanation for most of the recipes that end up here. Discontent with as is, I poke around and try anew. Ignoring, in some respects, the idea that a classic is a classic for a reason, I demand that it learn flexibility and try on new styles, metamorphosing, growing, moving. Do, don’t just be.

(Obligatory, shamelessly decadent sauce-pouring pictures)

Food Blog February 2014-3276Food Blog February 2014-3277Food Blog February 2014-3278This week’s recipe is definitely one of those that define what I do here. Furthering our exploration into the sauce world, I take a classic, simple, comfort food: broccoli cheese potatoes, and turn its world over, draping thick, cheddar-laden robes across a dish of pan-fried gnocchi and lightly blanched broccoli, letting the cheese sauce sink gracelessly into the crannies between before blistering the whole top under the broiler for a few minutes. It’s a revelation. But then, that shouldn’t be so surprising, because the classic combination it pulls from is already so good.

Food Blog February 2014-3280Sauce mornay is basically a béchamel that’s been dressed up with the addition of cheese. It is French, as so many of them are, and in application can be used to add gooey goodness to everything from crepes to vegetables to macaroni and cheese. Not a fan of cauliflower? Roast it and drench it in a mornay sauce. I can almost guarantee you’ll be a convert. Making a cheese-y potato soup? The base to which you add broth or stock will likely be something very similar to a mornay. Fondue and Welsh rarebit are other closely related preparations, though whether they are offshoots, coincidences, or legitimate progenitors is likely not provable.

Food Blog February 2014-3283Traditionally, the cheese added to a mornay is a blend of parmesan and gruyere, a particularly nutty variety of Swiss cheese. I like extra sharp cheddar in mine, though, the sharper the better. My mornay sauce, it’s only fair to tell you, is thicker and has a much higher proportion of cheese in it than is strictly traditional. My reasons for this, as I’ve mentioned before, are largely that I like the taste of cheese more than I like the taste of the sauce it becomes. This seems a bit silly – why make the sauce if what you’re really after is the cheese? – but this creation is so velvety and thick and luxurious that it’s worth tinkering with until you get the consistency and cheese percentage you are happy with.

Food Blog February 2014-3290As for the rest of the dish, I can’t take ultimate credit. The inspiration for pan frying the gnocchi comes from Nigella Lawson, the (for me) true domestic goddess. Rather than boiling them and risking gumminess or spongy bits falling about, she sautés them until golden and crisp, as I’ve done here. They are then ready – anxious even – to suck up the lush cheddar velvet we’re going to douse them in. Adding the broccoli, blanched in salted water just until crisp-tender, is my attempt to make this a complete meal and dislodge some of the guilt you might feel about the amount of cheese you’re going to consume. Plus, who doesn’t love broccoli with cheese sauce? Again, classics, but jammed together in a fresh way that I hope will delight you.

Food Blog February 2014-3289I’m giving you two versions of my sauce mornay recipe here – one quite pared down and basic, though, as I noted above, cheesier than what is typical (many mornays call for only a few tablespoons of cheese) – one “kicked up” with the integration of some more complex, exciting flavors. Use and play at your own discretion.

Food Blog February 2014-3295

Basic Mornay
Makes about 2½ cups
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ cups milk, at room temperature, if possible, for easier integration
2-3 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (or the cheese of your liking. I use a whopping 3 cups of extra sharp New York cheddar)
  • Key for this sort of sauce is having all of your ingredients ready to go from the beginning. You don’t want to get to the “whisk constantly” part and realize you haven’t grated your cheese yet. Do yourself a favor and have everything ready and waiting for you before you begin.
  • In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When it is melted and bubbling, sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine with a whisk. The mixture will become thick and a bit crumbly.
  • Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir to combine.
  • Add the milk slowly – no more than ½ cup at a time – whisking insistently and constantly as you add it. You want to combine it smoothly into the thick roux (butter and flour mixture) you’ve created, and avoid lumps. Adding 1½ cups of refrigerator cold milk all at once makes lumps much more likely.
  • Keep whisking your mixture gently as you pour in each addition of milk. When you have added all of the milk, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to whisk gently and languidly (or more ferociously if you have ended up with some lumps… it happens…) until the sauce begins to bubble.
  • Once the sauce reaches a gentle simmer, whisk until it thickens slightly – something a bit thicker than melted ice cream, perhaps the viscosity of a soft porridge or cream of wheat (remember that stuff? God I loved it as a kid).
  • Now that your sauce is thick, turn the heat down to low and add the cheese a small handful at a time, whisking after each addition until it is completely melted and incorporated. After a few minutes, you will end up with a thick, rich, pale orange (if it’s cheddar) sauce. If you are using cheddar, you might notice that your sauce is just barely grainy. That’s okay. It will still work really well in whatever application you’re using it for. Cheddar is just such a crumbly cheese that it doesn’t melt as silky smooth as other, softer cheeses.
Kicked-up Mornay
Makes about 2½ cups
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 ½ cups milk, at room temperature, if possible, for easier integration
2-3 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (or the cheese of your liking. I use a whopping 3 cups of extra sharp New York cheddar)
  • See notes above about having all of your ingredients ready to go before you begin cooking this sauce.
  • Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. When it has melted completely, add the finely minced garlic and stir gently.
  • When the garlic is sizzling and has barely taken on color, add the flour and stir to combine with a whisk. The mixture will become thick and a bit crumbly.
  • Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and mustard, and stir to combine.
  • With the spices and flavorings integrated, follow the remaining directions for the standard mornay sauce above.
Gnocchi and Broccoli with Blistered Sauce Mornay
Serves 3-4
1 pound gnocchi (I use premade, go on, judge me…)
1-2 medium heads broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 recipe kicked-up mornay
  • Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil, then (carefully!) drop in the broccoli florets. Return the water to a boil and cook for just a minute or two, until the broccoli reaches your desired state of crisp-tenderness. Drain well and set aside in an ovenproof dish. I used a 9×9 inch square pan, which worked well.
  • In the same skillet in which you intend to make your mornay, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. When it glistens as you let it flow across the pan, add the gnocchi and toss lightly to get them all in contact with the oiled surface of the pan.
  • Cook the gnocchi, tossing occasionally, until all are golden and they have gained a dry, crisp crust. This should take approximately 8 minutes, depending on how hot your stove’s “medium” is. While you wait for the gnocchi, tossing them occasionally, turn on your broiler to preheat.
  • Once your gnocchi are golden and all have a crisp crust on at least one side, toss them with the broccoli you prepared earlier.
  • Now make the mornay sauce, following the directions above. When it is thick and rich and adequately cheese-laden for your tastes, pour it over the top of your gnocchi and broccoli, letting it sink down into the crevices in between, and settle in a substantial layer across the top. You may not want to use all of the sauce, but the quantity you apply is up to you.
  • Place your sauced dish in the broiler and let it rip for 5-10 minutes, checking frequently, until the cheese sauce across the top bubbles and blisters, and the exposed broccoli florets begin to get crusty and brown. Then all that’s left to do is serve yourself up a bowl and enjoy.

Project Sauce: Bechamel

I think it’s a good idea to start with the basics. I don’t rush my students straight into composing multi-source research papers; starting a new project here seemed to hold to the same strictures. I’m not racing right into hollandaise. I’m not drenching your January palates with demi-glace, homemade mayonnaise, or even beurre blanc (though these are coming, have no fear). No, we’re going to start with something foundational, and at least for me, something familiar: bechamel.

Food Blog January 2014-3092Here’s the thing, though. As I’ve dipped my toe tentatively into the field of culinary history (side note: one of my new secret pretend-careers is culinary historian – fascinating!), what stands out more and more brightly to me is how rarely familiar actually is. Bechamel is an excellent example. It’s a white sauce. It’s one of the classic mother sauces. It forms a base for numerous other sauces: the luscious cheddar and beer laced concoction you drape over toast to make Welsh rarebit. The silky, creamy mess redolent of parmesan that becomes alfredo. Even the simple melting glory you toss with elbow noodles to make macaroni and cheese (can you tell we’ll be delving into cheese sauces?!). But its history is not without contradictions. Even the Medici family figure into it! According to some Catherine de Medici brought a retinue of Italian chefs with her into France when she married Henri, Duke of Orleans, and bechamel sauce flowed straight from their kitchens out into the rest of France. There are stories that it was invented by (though more likely named for) a steward called the Marquis Louise de Bechameil. The tradition of reducing cream sauces probably began in 18th century France, but the “mother sauces,” of which bechamel is one, were created in the 17th century. And boiling or simmering food items in milk, as some bechamels do, goes back to medieval cuisine.

Food Blog January 2014-3086National and temporal origins aside, there are even disputes about what goes into it. I’ve always made a bechamel sauce from three main ingredients: butter, flour, and milk. But there are thoughts about what kind of dairy should be used, and which flavoring agents are permissible, and some traditional recipes even call for sticking an onion with cloves and letting this flavor the milk as it heats.

Food Blog January 2014-3090Lest we get confused right out of the gate, however, I’m going to stick with what feels familiar and comfortable. Butter, flour, milk. A pinch of salt. A grind or two of pepper. French traditionalists would have me use white pepper, since it won’t disrupt the homogenous ivory color of the sauce, but I like seeing those little specks of flavor. Not to mention, I didn’t have any white pepper in my kitchen. A sauce made of butter, flour, and milk can only taste like so much, so I’ve also adopted the Italian addition of some nutmeg, freshly ground, to amp up the flavor. Now we have a lightly speckled pool of creaminess, like the slight freckles on a fresh egg.

Food Blog January 2014-3087Here’s how a bechamel works: you melt butter, add an equal portion of flour, and cook for a minute or two to allow the flour to dissolve and distribute. This combination – equal parts butter and flour – is called a roux, and it is the classic thickening agent. Everything from gumbo to cream gravy is thickened with roux.

Food Blog January 2014-3088To transform the roux into a sauce, then, you have to add liquid. For bechamel, that’s milk. So we add a quantity of milk, preferably warm, a little at a time, whisking and whisking until a velvet smooth sauce forms. The quantity of milk added depends on the desired thickness of the final end product. Being sure the milk is warm, and adding it slowly, guards against lumps. This sauce is about luscious smoothness and creamy thickness. Lumps won’t do.

Food Blog January 2014-3117The magic of bechamel is that you won’t know how thick it is going to be until it starts to simmer. It takes a bit of time for the flour granules to hydrate, and only once they are fully incorporated and warm enough to bubble will the true viscosity of the sauce reveal itself. The one we are going to produce here gets just a touch thicker than a pool of melted ice cream. It’s easily pourable, but it will also coat the back of a spoon, clinging in a smooth layer until you, say, run a finger through it to have a taste.

Food Blog January 2014-3119You can do a lot with a bechamel. As I noted earlier, it is the foundational component of a good cheese sauce. It’s also the classic white sauce component in a traditional lasagna. It can be draped over steamed vegetables, or make the base for a chowder or other cream soup, or even rest gently over a pounded, breaded, pan-fried chicken cutlet. But since I am working with classic and simple here, I wanted to go with a dish that really lets you experience the creamy loveliness of a bechamel: croque monsieur.

Food Blog January 2014-3122Now you’re raising your eyebrows. I know; croque monsieur is essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Ham and swiss, to be specific. It’s a name taken from the French verb croquer, which means “to crunch” or “to munch.” Thus the sandwich is, if I dare, a Mister Crunch. N. loved this. He’s been calling the sauce in question a “bleckmel” to make me laugh; he knows full well how to pronounce it (he did take French, after all), and he was so delighted by the literal translation of our dinner that he started to call it a “Crunchy Human” sandwich, eliminating the gendered title: a sandwich for everyone! (I should note, however, that there is a “female” version of this sandwich: a croque madame is the same grilled ham and swiss, with the addition of a gently fried egg on top.)

Food Blog January 2014-3127So let’s do this. A perfectly crunchy sandwich, laden with melting swiss and a thin layer of smoky, salty ham, topped with spoonfuls of perfectly creamy bechamel, sprinkled with more cheese, and broiled until golden bubbles swell on the surface. It’s a fork-and-knife sandwich, and it’s far from a light lunch, but it is, I think, a good way to start.

Food Blog January 2014-3130

Makes approximately 1 ½ cups
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole milk, warmed slightly in a saucepan or in the microwave
a pinch each salt, pepper (white is traditional, but I used black), and nutmeg (freshly ground is preferable)
  • In a medium pan, melt the butter over medium to medium-low heat.
  • Add the flour, sprinkling it in around the pan rather than dumping it all in one spot; this will help it incorporate easily and quickly. Stir it around with a whisk, letting it mix with the butter to form golden clumps, which will slowly collapse into a pale yellow, lightly bubbling mass. This will take 1-2 minutes.
  • Once the flour and butter have cooked together for 1-2 minutes, begin adding the milk. Pour in only about ¼ cup at a time, whisking constantly during and after each addition. The butter and flour mixture will get quite thick and pasty with the first few additions of milk. That’s fine – just keep whisking, fully incorporating before each additional pour of liquid.
  • After a few additions, the mixture will begin to resemble a sauce, thinning out and liquifying. Keep whisking. Inattendance will result in unincorporated hunks of flour, and thus a lumpy sauce.
  • Once you have added all of the milk, you won’t have to whisk as vigorously. Just keep turning your whisk through the sauce in lazy figure eights, dreaming about your weekend or the tropics or the lecture you are planning on Anglo-Saxon England (that might be just me), as it heats through.
  • When your sauce is slightly thickened, approaching the texture of melted ice cream, add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. You want just a nice little sprinkle of each, to add subtle flavor.
  • Continue your lazy whisking until the sauce barely begins to bubble. It will be just a touch thicker than melted ice cream now – something like a thick royal icing or even a powdered sugar glaze.
  • Lower or turn off the heat until you are ready to apply the sauce.
  • Bechamel behaves best when warm. As it cools, it clumps and forms a skin like you’d find on a pudding. It can be stored in the refrigerator, covered tightly, and reheated in a pan if needed, but will be best on the day it is made.
Croque Monsieur
Quantities are per sandwich. Make as many as you wish!
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 slices of bread (a french loaf would be traditional; I used sourdough, because I’m not)
2-3 thin slices of good ham
½ cup grated swiss cheese, divided (I like Gruyere. Emmantaler would also be lovely)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2-3 tablespoons bechamel sauce
  • Spread the inside of each slice of bread with dijon mustard. You might want more than a teaspoon, but I tend to prefer my sandwiches light on the mustard.
  • On top of the mustard, mound all but 2 tablespoons of the grated swiss cheese, then spread it carefully and gently over the bread to form an even layer.
  • Add the slices of ham on top of the cheese, folding or manipulating their shape where necessary so they aren’t hanging over the sides. Top with the remaining piece of bread.
  • Spread the outsides of both pieces of bread with the butter. I like to do this by placing the sandwich in the cold skillet I’ll be toasting it in. That way, when I flip the sandwich over to butter the other side, I won’t make a mess or lose any of the butter – it will just be resting against the cooking surface.
  • With the sandwich in the skillet, heat it over medium heat. Don’t go any hotter than this! You’ll be tempted to crank the heat up. But it takes a while for the cheese to melt, and we don’t want the bread to burn in the meantime. Slow and steady.
  • Toast the sandwich until the bread is golden and crisp, and the cheese inside is well melted: 4-5 minutes per side over medium or even medium-low heat. Meanwhile, preheat your broiler.
  • When the sandwich is nicely toasted, turn off the stove. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of warm bechamel over the top slice of bread. Use the back of the spoon to spread it out – you want an even layer, completely covering the slice. Corners and edges poking out will get too dark under the intense heat of the broiler.
  • Once you have an even layer of bechamel, sprinkle the remaining swiss cheese and all of the grated parmesan right over the top, again trying to create an even, complete layer.
  • Carefully place the skillet into your broiler (if you have handles on the skillet made of anything but metal, be sure to wrap them in aluminum foil first) and broil for 3-5 minutes, until the sauce and cheese on top melt, bubble, and attain a slightly crunchy bronzed layer on top.
  • Remove from the broiler (be careful – the handle of your skillet is now incredibly hot. Don’t ask me how I know this), plate, and serve bubbling hot! You can cut the sandwich in half if you like, but since you are probably going to be eating it with a fork and knife, pre-slicing might not be necessary.