When your guests have just walked in the door, you are simultaneously fishing raviolis out of a pot of boiling water and scalding yourself with one hand and tossing salad with the other.  How do you come up with a plan for dressing said raviolis that will 1) require no complex ingredients and 2) elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of pleasure from said guests?

Bonjour monsieur Béchemel.  

Essentially what you’d think of as ‘white sauce’, it’s not alfredo (that’s Italian, theoretically).  It’s Béchemel (pronounced bay-sham-ell, but snootier).  It’s a wonderful tool for culinary and entertaining emergencies.  It has saved my life and reputation more than once.  And you always make way too much and get to make blah meals incredible for a week straight with one pan of sauce.  

If you do a google search, you will come up with a billion results.  Here’s the recipe I loosely followed.  

For the ultra-quick preparation method, here are your mission instructions.  

Assemble: butter, flour, cream, milk

Tools: Pan, whisk

  1. Put butter in a pan over med-high heat.  Not a smidge, like a few tablespoons, at least.
  2. Let the butter melt and the foam subside.  Sprinkle in heaping spoons of flour with one hand while you whisk with the other.  Whisk the flour in.  Keep adding until there’s enough flour in the pan to absorb all the butter and you have a thick-ish dough, called a roux.  (pronounced like roo)
  3. Keep stirring this until golden brown, like two to five minutes.
  4. Begin streaming in cream and whisking into the roux.  (I used about a half cup)
  5. After you have added as much fat in liquid form and you conscience will allow, switch to milk.  Keep streaming in liquid until it is a sauce, though still thick and creamy.  
  6. Whisk in a pinch of salt and you’re done!

Béchemel goes on everything from pasta to eggs.  It takes any dish from Betty Crocker to Brigitte Bardot.  If you want to become a Martha Stewart impersonator, add some chopped fresh herbs (or dried) before serving.  If you’re serving children or husbands (culinarily the same thing, no?) you can add grated cheese.  

Third World Note: I love this sauce because I can get the ingredients in the third-world country where I live.  Canned media-crema from Nestle works great, but I can’t vouch for the success of canned milk.  You can also use chicken broth instead of milk if you like, but you must use some cream.