Like the author of this site I learned how to make a basic white sauce in a home economics class more years ago than I care to count. Can’t say I was much impressed then.
But when I began to realize how variable this simple recipe can be and what a scope for creativity it offers, it became very interesting indeed.
Every part of the recipe can be modified for different uses.
The fat component can be melted butter, lard, shortening, margarine or any sort of oil. Gravies are a “white sauce” in which the drippings from the roast form the fat component.
The starch component is usually wheat flour, but can be potato, soy, barley or rice flour. Corn starch and amaranth flour are the choices for making a clear sauce. They have more thickening power than other flours, so use half as much per cup of liquid.
The liquid component is usually milk, but can just as well be water, broth, tomato juice, or fruit juice or a blend of several of these. A touch of white wine is great in a sauce for seafood. A clear sauce using fruit juice as the liquid makes a nice pancake topping. A clear sauce made with chicken broth and soy sauce often completes an Asian stir-fry dish.
Then there are all sorts of things one can add to a white sauce: vegetables, meats, cheese, tomato paste, peanut butter, a whole assortment of herbs and spices, and ,for sweet sauces, fruit, chocolate, sugar, honey or other sweeteners.
So, where do you use white sauce? Virtually everywhere.
- Cream soups (celery, mushroom, potato, squash, broccoli, whatever takes your fancy)
- Cheese sauces for macaroni and cheese, to pour over vegetables. Include beer in the liquid and you have Welsh rabbit. (Which most people now know as Welsh rarebit.)
- Curries (basically a curry sauce is a white sauce with the appropriate spices added)
- Creamed chicken, tuna, etc. to be served over toast, polenta, or rice
- Casseroles (substitute your own white sauce for canned soup)
Whatever the additions and modifications, a white sauce is basically a combination of fat, starch and liquid cooked to get a thick sauce. With that in mind, many apparently daunting recipes, like Bean & Noodle Casserole, resolve themselves into “Make a white sauce and ….”