For many reasons I prefer to cook from scratch, avoiding most of the ready-prepared food available in the supermarkets. I like to know what goes into my food. Whilst I advocate using ready-made pastry (for me a time factor) much of rest usually includes too much salt for my liking, garlic (which I love but my husband doesn’t), and so many other ingredients one hasn’t a clue what they are or what they do to your body and digestive system. Making from scratch often (but not necessarily) works out cheaper and you have total control what you are eating. I do use a ready-made curry sauce, but most other sauces are so easy to make I do wonder why many cooks shy aware from making them. Perhaps it’s the thought of it going lumpy, or burning, or too thin, too thick and all that standing over a hot cooker. So here’s a staple basic white sauce that is easy to make, requires only four store cupboard ingredients, and four items of equipment. I’m talking here of a basic white sauce. Yes, it’s that simple! Note I haven’t given any exact weights or measures. For a sauce, as for many of the things I cook, I don’t weight or measure the ingredients.
For approx 1 pint of sauce.
Equipment: 1 tablespoon, 1 large Pyrex/glass measuring jug or basin, 1 balloon whisk, and 1 microwave oven.
Ingredients: Butter, flour, mustard, cold milk (any type – whatever your preference. I use full fat).
Take out of microwave and add approximately 1 heaped tablespoon of flour (plain or self-raising, it doesn’t matter but suggest plain) and a pinch of dry mustard or (a little ready-made). Stir quickly then add enough milk to cover the flour. Whisk together with the balloon whisk.
At this point you’ll probably be thinking it’s gone wrong all ready. It hasn’t. It will be lumpy, it will look a mess, but keep whisking as it will soon come together if thick. And a little more milk, whisk again, more milk, more whisking making sure you incorporate all the flour stuck at the bottom and around edge of the jug. Continue until you have about a pint of sauce but do not add in a whole pint of milk at this stage: a thick sauce is easy to thin down with more milk, whereas a thin sauce is harder to thicken.
When the sauce is as smooth as you can get it cook in the microwave on full for approx. 1 minute. Remove, whisk till smooth, back in microwave for another minute, repeating two or three times. If it feels too thick add a little more cold milk, whisk and back in the microwave until the sauce bubbles and begins to rise in the jug. Keep watch and don’t allow it to boil over.
It should now be cooked. Remove from microwave and whisk again, adding more milk if still too thick. If using the sauce as a base for other ingredients, don’t thin the sauce too much at this stage.
Still lumpy? In the unlikely event of this happening, a quick blast with a stick blender should sort it out. You are now ready to use the sauce as the basis for many meals.
Tip: If you are not going to use a sauce immediately (and this goes for any sauce or custard) cover completely with cling film, ensuring the film actually touches the sauce. This prevents a skin forming across the surface.
Cheese Sauce: Simply add ample grated cheese to taste.
Tip: Do not add salt until after you have added your cheese and checked for taste. Cheese is salty by nature so you may not need to add any other salt.
Tip: Always use a strong cheese – you will need far less than using a mild one, thus less fat and your sauce will taste far better. I always use Cathedral Extra Mature Cheddar.
Stir and taste. Does it need more cheese? Salt?
Perfect as pouring sauce, or with macaroni or cauliflower, or pouring over any left-over vegetables (any mixture) as another vegetable dish another day. Add left-over mashed potato on top, sprinkle with a little more cheese to make an even more filling vegetarian “cottage” pie.
Tip: Steam instead of boiling cauliflower (or other vegetable) when using with a sauce.
The image at the start of this post is of broccoli cheese. At present we have a glut of purple sprouting broccoli in our garden. The broccoli is steamed until almost tender, put into a lightly greased oven-proof dish, covered in cheese sauce, a sprinkle of paprika over the top and baked in the oven till bubbling. I also have several of these prepared and in the freezer.
A favourite dish with my family is leek and cabbage cheese bake. Most supermarkets sell bags of prepared shredded leek and cabbage, although any mixture of cabbage and green veg can be used. Simply steam the leek and cabbage until tender. Place in a greased dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Top with a mixture of fresh breadcrumbs and cheese, sprinkle with paprika and bake till bubbling. Delicious!
Parsley Sauce: Simply add fresh, frozen or dried parsley to the made sauce. Lovely with any fish, or in a fish pie or as a pouring sauce with boiled bacon. Any leftover sauce can be mixed with fish and mashed potato to form tasty fishcakes. I often use tinned salmon or crab for this.
The possibilities and uses of a white sauce are endless. I hope I’ve given you a few ideas.