can the can

By Monday, November 23, 2009

Canned cream of fill-in-the-blank soups makes me sad. What they try to replace in cooking really have no replacements. These classic sauces are foundations upon which other food is made.

As Thanksgiving and Christmas are close at hand, I thought I would delve into some of these sauces that can easily be made and elevate the standard green bean, cheesy potato, pot pie or mac and cheese casserole.

Béchamel (French) or Besciamella (Italian)
This sauce is the base for many sauces – a “mother” sauce as the French refer to it (love it!). All béchamel start with a roux, which is roughly equal parts butter and flour cooked into a paste to which hot milk is added. This mixture is cooked until thickened. Typically a little freshly grated nutmeg is added to a traditional béchamel, but the sauce can be further enhanced with other components. Fold in 4-6 oz. diced sautéed mushrooms and fresh thyme (ideal for green bean casserole). During the cooking process, replace half of the milk with chicken stock and you have a velouté (cream of chicken, anyone?). Add some grated cheese (gruyere, sharp white cheddar, parmigiano, etc.) to it and it becomes sauce Mornay (perfect for macaroni and cheese or cheesy potato casserole). Give it a try ... you won't be sorry and neither will your guests!

Here’s my favorite recipe … from one of my favorite chefs, Mario Batali.

Basic Béchamel

5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.

Happy eating ... and cooking! -s.

photo from wholefoods website ... check it out here.

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