Cheese Sauce

It came to my attention a little while ago that not everyone knows how to make a roux, or a béchamel sauce or a cheese sauce. Each one is a progression of the one before. So I thought I’d give explaining it with pictures a go.

One…it is not difficult, but have your ingredients out and ready before you start, particularly for cheese sauce. Trying to grate or cube cheese while stirring your roux or sauce so it doesn’t burn is aggravating and almost certainly doomed to disaster.

Two….I cannot taste “raw” flour. I think I might be broken – too many years of smoking messed up my tastebuds, maybe. Realistically, you have to cook the roux to a certain point anyway, and then you add in whatever you’re trying to thicken, so it’s going to cook longer so I don’t understand why everyone makes a point of saying “cook it to get rid of the raw flour taste”. It will be cooked.

Three….if you burn it. STOP. Throw it out, clean out your pan and start again. Once it is burnt there is no saving it.

Four….relax. Cooking is not difficult. It all takes practice. Sometimes what you make will burn, or taste really bad, or be fantastic – but you have no idea what you did to make it so. Cooking is a lifelong learning experience. Even when you have the steps memorized a tool will mess you up or help unexpectedly or a jug of milk will be sour but you don’t realize until it’s too late. Or you ripped the label off the cheese you just used about a week ago and you have no idea what it was but it was the best damn cheese you’ve ever had.

So, onto making a roux.

I was making homemade macaroni and cheese tonight and having finally figured out how to make it taste good (my first two or three attempts were terribly bland…much like I think wallpaper paste would taste – or that white glue in school), there is no comparison to the stuff in boxes. Those boxes have their place, but honestly, homemade doesn’t take much longer and it is soooooo much better for you. Once upon a time, the dyes in the cheese powder made my mancub lose his mind….something about ADHD and food dyes – not compatible. Red food dye (in hot dogs and other processed meats) is particularly bad, but yellow dye was not a good time for anyone, either.

I did not measure because I’ve got the hang of proportions at this point, but here’s where to start for 3-4 cups of dry noodles cooked:

  • 3 TB of margarine or butter or olive oil
  • 3-4 TB of flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 heaping TB of Dijon mustard or yellow mustard or a TB of mustard powder
  • salt & pepper (take it easy on the salt, particularly if you are making cheese sauce)
  • a little pinch of cayenne or a squirt of hot sauce– not enough to spice it, just enough to wake it up
  • A whisk – a spoon will work at first for the roux, but a whisk works better when you get to gravy or béchamel – then back to the spoon for cheese sauce

In a reasonably thick pot or frying pan (this will help to not burn it), melt your butter on medium heat. Add the flour. Stir until you have a smooth paste and all the flour is incorporated.

Melt that butter.

Break out the whisk.

Add the flour.

If you are making a gravy, add in your drippings and whisk. Add potato and/or vegetable water to thin it out, whisking the whole while. Once it is thick enough for your liking, you’re done. Take it off the heat and taste it – adjust your spices and serve.

To make beschamel, follow the steps below. To make cheese sauce, add the mustard and follow the steps below.

I make mine thicker but this will do the job. Mix that flour in very well.

Add in about ¼ of the milk – so about ½ a cup. Whisk like crazy. Get the lumps out.

Get those lumps out then let it thicken.

Let it thicken. Add another ½ a cup of milk. Whisk like crazy. Get the lumps out.

Let it thicken. Add another ½ cup of milk. Whisk. De-lump.

Let it thicken. Add the last ½ cup of milk. Whisk. De-lump.

This is the first thickening.

Don’t rush this. How thick your sauce gets now is as thick as it is going to get, so get it to where you want it. Word of caution….your sauce should be like soup but just a little thicker…..like condensed soup, heated up, but without any water or milk added. Thick but not solid.

There may be a little hot sauce and some Chili flakes. 🙂

To make into cheese sauce….Add a couple cups of grated cheese. I used cheddar but you can use whatever you like. Don’t make it mild cheese, though, because it’ll be ooey gooey and have no flavour! You can also use as many cheeses as you like. Add cheddar, bleu, gruyere, gouda, Parmesan, goat, cream cheese….whatever you have, and whatever you enjoy.

Add that cheese!

As you add in your cheese, switch back to the spoon and mix until the cheese has melted. Taste for spices. Mix in your noodles. Serve.

Aahhhh, cheesy noodles!

If you are very coordinated, you can be cooking your noodles and making your cheese sauce at the same time. They take about the same amount of time to cook so this could be half an hour from ingredient gathering/prep to food on the table. That’s pretty good and only about 15 minutes more than the noodles in the box.

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