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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sauce Béchamel, Sauce Bechamel. One of the Five Mother sauces in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Last updated April 2017
Sauce Béchamel.
Photograph courtesy of michael.newman 
Mother Sauces
The mother sauces are the five basic sauces of French cuisine.  Escoffier’s five mother sauces are Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, Veloute, and Tomato. Escoffier in the 20th century replaced the four mother sauces that.Carême had established in the early 1900s. Careme's basic sauces were Béchamel, Espagnole, Velouté, and Allemande. Escoffier mother sauces may be served on their own; however, their importance lies in their use as a base for many other sauces. The sauce developed from a mother sauce is that sauce’s child. Basic sauces have many children and grandchildren.
Sauce Béchamel
Sauce Béchamel is a white sauce; at its simplest, it is made with butter, flour, and milk, and flavored with nutmeg. Sauce Mornay is Béchamel’s most famous child and it is simply made by adding Gruyere or Parmesan cheese to the Sauce Béchamel. Sauce Bechamel with its simple recipe was certainly being made, with or without the nutmeg, and without a name long before its recipe was first written in a cookbook.
Penne pasta in a sauce Béchamel.
Photograph by courtesy of Brenda Wiley
 Sauce Béchamel on French menus:
Gratin d'Aubergine, Pommes de Terre et Viande Hachée à la Sauce Béchamel -  Aubergines, USA eggplants, mashed potatoes and chopped beef covered with a Béchamel sauce; cooked and browned in the oven.
Crepes with ham and sauce bechamel.
Photograph courtesy of su-lin.
 Pâtes Farcies au Veau et Épinard, Nappées d'une Sauce Tomate et Béchamel, le Tout Gratiné -Fresh pasta stuffed with veal and spinach and served with an oven-browned tomato and Béchamel sauce.
Lasagne à la Béchamel.
 In Italian that's Lasagna alla Besciamella
Lasagne with Béchamel sauce.
The French use many Italian recipes and the Italians have returned the compliment and also serve Sauce Béchamel, mostly called Besciamella in Italian, with pasta.
Good recipes are for sharing.
Photograph courtesy of santinet.
Choux-Fleur à la Béchamel Gratinée  - Cauliflower covered with Béchamel sauce and browned under the grill.

Gratiné de Noix de Saint-Jacques en Béchamel. The meat of the king scallop cooked with béchamel sauce and browned under the grill.
Stuffed red peppers with Sauce Bechamel.
Photograph courtesy of Javier Lastras.

Pain de Mie, Jambon Blanc, Béchamel, Tomates et Gruyère.  A sandwich of sliced bread with cooked ham, tomatoes, and Gruyere cheese; covered with Sauce Béchamel. In France, at lunchtime, sandwiches, and croissants stuffed with ham, cheese or vegetables will be on many menus. Many come with Sauce Béchamel.

A spinach and Béchamel pizza.
Photograph courtesy of Julianusghg
Escoffier named the five mother sauces.
 Escoffier's five mother sauces are Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, Veloute, and Tomato. Each of these mother sauces has many, many children, grandchildren and more.

Who was the Béchamel
and who gave Sauce Béchamel its name.

Louis de Béchamel Marquis of Nointel, (1630-1703) was a Farmer-General, that meant that he was one of the top tax collectors of France; a very wealthy and influential man. Louis de Béchamel would go on to become the treasurer of King Louis XIV of France.  I am sure that flattering him by naming dishes with his name did not result in just one single sauce.  However, in the four hundred years since Sauce Béchamel is the only recipe with his name that survives.

Round ravioli in a Bechamel sauce.
Photograph courtesy of Duane Storey
Most traditions give the credit for naming the sauce to the chef of the Duc De Mornay.  That chef is also credited with naming Sauce Mornay after his own employer.  When I began asking about these traditions I found that connecting Louis de Béchamel and the Duc de Mornay on the same timeline is difficult if not impossible. Despite the missing history Louis de Béchamel and the Duc de Mornay, like many others, survive today through the sauces and dishes named after them.
La Varenne and Sauce Béchamel

I have read articles that give the honor for the creation of a precursor to Sauce Béchamel to the Chef of the Marquis d'Duxelles, François Pierre de La Varenne (1618 - 1678).  La Varenne wrote one of the most famous early cookbooks called Le Cuisinier Francoise, the French chef.
    I read La Varenne’s book online, using the French National Library’s excellent online service.  On page 117  there is a recipe for Asperges à la Sauce Blanche, asparagus with a white sauce.  That is a sauce that I would call an early Hollandaise Sauce as he uses Vinegar instead of lemon; however, I could not find an early Sauce Béchamel.
Those who wish to see this interesting book on early French cuisine can read it or download it on-line. Reading is free and downloading has a small charge.  The French used is for recipes and fairly easy to understand.  Just go to  the website of the Biblotech National de France:

The Cuisiner Francois
With thanks to the Biblotech National de France.
La Varenne and Duxelles

La Varenne did create many new dishes in his time, and even if he did not create Sauce Béchamel he did create the recipe for Duxelles.  Duxelles are finely sliced mushrooms, shallots, and herbs cooked in butter; the recipe is still on French menus today.  Varenne named the dish after his employer the Marquis d'Duxelles.


Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2011, 2012, 2014,2015,2017
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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