Monday, September 12, 2011


Okay, we’re gonna tackle the most bestest, basic-est of the Mother Sauces (TM; France, all of modern time).  White Sauce (a/k/a Béchemel).  Which I promised you ages ago, which is gonna get us into all kinds of trouble down the road.  Trouble I promise you will kick off right now.  White sauce combines Fat and Starch, then adds Dairy to produce a creamy sauce.  Just keep it in mind--That’s All, Folks.  Buttah, Flour, Milk.  Maybe a little seasoning.  
The Basic will get you a yummy sauce for baked potatoes.  If you have, perhaps, sautéed some onions, garlic and mushrooms, then stir these into the sauce and add some steamed fresh green beans, you have the start of real, yummy Green Bean Casserole.  See what I mean? Trouble already--When baked for a short time with buttery panko breadcrumbs on top, many of you would hole up in the back pantry snarfing this with the serving spoon at Thanksgiving dinner.
But wait! What’s this? You need a substantial Winter Dinner with Meatless Protein?  MAC ‘N’ CHEESE!  Yes, this is the darkest, dirtiest, yummiest level of White Sauce.  Cook some pasta for a very short time, make the basic sauce, add egg, shredded cheese and some spices, et, voilà, Mac ‘n’ Cheese ready for the freezer to defrost during the day and bake 30 mins at night.
And that way lies MADNESS!!  I have a couple of variations, some favorite add-ins, but then I saw one of those “Best of Blah-Blah” shows on Food Network which featured a restaurant famous for their Mac.  Not just some ol’ mac (small letters) made in large hotel pans, very good recipe, baked and warmed all day.  Noooooo, this dude was using these small cast iron sauté pans he found in France to make the stuff fresh for each diner.  Diners who could order Mac Combos from a List of Ingredients.  So I laid it out to Knitting Group--Name Your Combo! That will follow in my very very next post because the variations were, frankly (and this will surprise absolutely no knitters whatsoeveratall), borderline lewd and licentious, food-wise.  Feel free to imagine your own and post it here!
Needless to say, this is just round the corner and down the block from Fettucine Alfredo and all kinds of delightful nonsense and creativity.
So White Sauce truly is the Mother Sauce of all Evil.  
Tasty, Tasty Evil.
This weekend’s Evil Incarnate was Biscuits ‘N’ Gravy.  Ridiculously easy when you get the groove, and a little practice will buy you a pretty good groove, my friend.  Of course, I refer to the Joy of Cooking for the basic recipes, but they are reminders of elementary principals and proportions, which we will see shortly.
I use a Drop Biscuit recipe, which utilizes the bare minimum ingredients: Flour, Salt, Baking Powder, Butter, Milk.  Most basic cookbooks will have this recipe, and the rest is all technique:
1.  Scoop and Sweep to measure Flour:  Scoop with the measuring cup, sweep the top level with a knife to achieve an even measure.  If it calls for partial cups, e.g. “1 3/4 cups”, use the 1 cup and the 1/4 cups 3 times.   

Keep it simple, Keep it accurate.

2  Butter:  When they say “Chilled”, keep it in the fridge till you’re ready to use it, take it out, use those handy measuring lines on the wrapper and cut it.  Then cut it in little cubes touching it as little as possible and toss it in the dry goods.  If you have a pastry cutter, use it.  Recipes will say use two knives, but I’ve found that a fork works really well. What matters is SPEED--the colder that butter stays, the better. When the recipe says “Cut [butter and flour] together until the size of small peas”, basically it’s smooshing the butter into the flour until it looks a bit sandy--then STOP!  You don’t want to completely mix the two like a cookie dough.  What you’re doing is dispersing fat in uneven bits throughout the dough. 

"Blend to the size of small peas" 

3.  Finally, make a well in the middle, gently pour in the milk and gently stir with either a wooden or silicon spatula till it only just comes together. Don’t get gooey, HOWEVER-- Your directions may not say it, but have a small amount of milk handy, to add a bit at a time if the dough isn’t coming together as one mass.  If it really looks too dry and stuff isn’t sticking together, dribble in some milk and gently mix one or two more times.

Just Keeping It Together

At this point, spoon out onto parchment-lined, sil-mat lined or greased baking sheet according to directions.  

Golden, Brown & Delicious

So there’s the delivery system, let’s get to the goods!

This is all a game of Proportions and Watching:
BASIC WHITE SAUCE RATIO: Fat-2parts:Starch-2parts:Dairy-2parts
Recipe:  2Tbsp Butter: 2Tbsp Flour: 2Cups Whole Milk, Salt, Pepper

The Big Secret is Proportions:  You will be able to increase or decrease as much as you need.  I have never decreased.  Ha.  However, if you like the Practice Makes Perfect approach, pare this down to the minimum ratio (1:1:1) and try a batch of White Sauce several nights in a row.  You will find a way to use it and discover you are, indeed, a GENIUS!

1.  Watch Your Fats:  When making the Basic White Sauce, you will use only Butter.  Butter will burn if left in the pan too long without actually cooking stuff.  The First Stage is Melting.  Second Stage is Foaming.  Third Stage is Slight Browning, and this is just as far as you should get until slinging food into the pan, because:  Fourth Stage is Burned.  It will smell bitter and taste worse.  Just pour it out, swipe the pan with kitchen roll and start again, no big, you’re learning!  

2.  A Word About Flour:  I use a super-fine milled flour, my life-long favorite is Gold Medal Wondra.  It blends beeeyoooootifully and creates a smooth sauce.  Any All-Purpose Flour, however, will work. Do not use Arrowroot or Corn Starch, these have really different thickening characteristics and will NOT work the same way.  Your sauce will not act the same and you will be unhappy. Measure flour first into a dish and have it ready, as the Sauce Steps go quickly.

3.  Heeere We Go!  Melt the butter, allow to foam and subside a bit.  Sprinkle flour evenly over and start whisking. Sprinkle in Salt&Pepper.  Allow this to brown slightly, whisking gently, creating a Roux.  

Sprinkle Flour from a Dish                      Whisk that Roux!

4.  Adjust your heat down to low-medium.  Pour in Milk sloooowly to start.  First, this prevents splashing and burnt milk on your hot stove. SECOND: Pouring a small amount of milk into the roux, gradually adding liquid into the paste loosens it up, whisking very well the whole time.  The more thorough you are in this stage, the more insurance you have against lumps.  Slow, complete blending in the start wins the game.  As the mix becomes smoother, pour the milk all the way in and keep whisking.  This is now your primary job, so do NOT leave off till the sauce looks thick and finished.  Helpful Tip:  Taste the Sauce Now.  Tastes like raw flour and milk, yes? Turn the heat back up to Med-High and Keep going!

Milk, Meet Roux--Easy Does It!  In The Beginning, It was Grainy.

5.  Are We There Yet?  When you have just finished pouring in the milk, a spoon dipped in will show the sauce is not yet well-incorporated and has a grainy appearance.  When the sauce has been lovingly whisked and has thickened, the same spoon, when dipped again, will show the sauce to have become silky, creamy white.  Turn the heat off immediately.  Taste the Sauce NOW.  Tastes like DINNER, YES???


From here, I simply added in some cooked pork sausage and a bit of hot sauce to the JoC recipe and ladled it over the biscuits.   I served with my favorite vegetable, Bacon.

---->But YOU could add cheese and pasta, veggies and cheese, etc, etc, etc.  Remember---YOU'RE A GENIUS!!
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