Homemade white sauce is so easy to prepare and once you learn how to make it, you’ll find yourself using it or the base of it (a roux) quite frequently in cooking from scratch.
I’m all for a good shortcut, but white sauce is one of those things that tastes so much better when it’s made from scratch. It’s worth taking a few minutes to prepare it yourself.
No more cream of ____ canned sauces.
I have a few recipes that do call for these cream-of sauces for convenience but to be honest when I make these recipes, I make my own sauce. So, I thought it was time I shared with you how to make a white sauce too so you have the option to make your own cream sauces.
White sauce is otherwise known as Béchamel sauce.
If you’re fancy. Or you can call it white sauce like I do. Béchamel sauce is one of the French mother sauces that is made with a white roux plus milk.
What is a roux?
Another fancy French word. I don’t have another less-fancy name for this one, but a roux (pronounced rue, rhymes with clue) is something I use all the time in my cooking and if you browse all my recipes, you’re sure to find a roux at play in many of them.
A roux is flour and fat heated together to form a thickener. Any type of fat works but I often make my roux with butter and flour. You can, however, use bacon fat or any animal or vegetable fat. The ratio of fat to flour is 1:1. Pretty easy to remember.
A white roux is one that you let cook for just about a minute to cook away the floury taste, but not so long that the butter browns and becomes a brown roux. A brown roux is not wrong and actually can taste really great! Browning the butter adds a nutty flavor so if you’re into that, go for it. Just don’t burn the butter.
For this recipe, since we’re aiming to make a white sauce, we will start with a white roux.
Going from a roux to a sauce.
Once you’ve made your roux, you then add a liquid to make it a sauce.
For this white sauce, we’re adding milk. There is no golden ratio or proper amount of liquid to add.It really just depends on how thick or thin you like your sauce. The less liquid, the more thick your sauce. I typically add liquid and bring it to a boil. Bringing it to a boil sort of activates the thickener and makes everything combine and so you can see how thick your sauce is. You want to stir the sauce until it’s smooth as it heats to a boil to help it combine. I usually eyeball how much liquid I add and I start with a minimal amount. You can always add more liquid to thin it out. It’s more difficult to add more thickener because you can’t just add butter or flour separately or it will clump and you’ll end up with a lump sauce.
Other than seasoning it a bit, once you have your desired thickness, you’re done! A white sauce is just flour, butter and milk. To season your white sauce, some chefs recommend adding nutmeg to give it a depth of flavor and you should add salt and white or black pepper to taste as well.
This is a basic white sauce!
Beyond the basic white sauce.
Once you’ve mastered how to make a roux and you’ve turned it into a delicious sauce by adding a liquid, then you can experiment and branch out almost indefinitely.
Here’s how to take your roux and sauces beyond a basic white sauce:
• Brown your butter by cooking it longer to achieve that nutty flavor.
• Try different fats other than butter.
• Add cheese to your white sauce. Melting in Parmesan cheese creates an awesome homemade Alfredo sauce. Adding cheddar cheese creates a wonderful cheese sauce for mac and cheese. Add white American cheese and you have the start of a yummy queso dip! The amount of cheese you add is totally customizable. I typically start with 1/2 cup of cheese per every 1 cup of milk but you can do less or more depending on how cheesy you like your sauce.
• Instead of adding milk to your roux, try adding other liquids. For example, adding chicken broth creates a lovely chicken gravy. Beef broth for a beef gravy. And so on. This can be used as gravy, or a base for stews as well as fillings for things like pot pies.
Homemade Cream of Chicken Sauce
To make your own cream of chicken sauce (similar to the canned condensed soup), create a thick white sauce using a 1:1 butter and flour mixture then slowly add milk until you reach the desired thickness of your sauce. Don’t forget you need to bring the sauce to a boil for the thickening agent to combine with the milk and “activate.” Then add 1-2 tsp of chicken bullion powder for each cup of milk. Adjust the amount of chicken bullion to your own taste. More bullion means more chicken flavor but also means more salt so find your happy medium—the beauty of homemade is you can control these things.
You can also add herbs if you’d like. Add the herbs to the butter and flour stage so that the oils in the butter activate the herbs’ full flavor. Herbs that pair well with chicken are: thyme, marjoram, tarragon, cilantro, rosemary, sage, oregano, and garlic. If you want a blend of herbs but aren’t sure what goes well together, you can opt for a ready-made spice-blend for poultry.
Use salted or unsalted butter
You can control the amount of salt you use in your white sauce. I typically start with salted butter since I like to add even more salt to season my white sauce. However, if you are on a low sodium diet or want to use a special salt like sea salt for a different flavor, then you can start with unsalted butter and add your own salt to taste. You can add salt at the end so that you can taste the sauce to see how much you need to add.
What can you serve with white sauce?
White sauce is great with a meat added in. Add chicken, ham, or sausage. Delicious! Serve with biscuits, and you’re in business.
I often associate white gravy with breakfast foods. It can dress up a breakfast sandwich or top an otherwise dry egg casserole. However, it can also be enjoyed at dinner time too depending on what you’re topping with it.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes that incorporate some variation of a white sauce:
Want more easy recipes?
This tutorial for how to make white sauce was featured on South Your Mouth!
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ tsp salt more or less to taste
- Optional: ground nutmeg
- In a small sauce pot, melt butter over medium heat.
- Whisk in flour and let bubble for 1-2 minutes to cook out the floury taste. Do not let the butter turn brown. Stir as needed.
- Next, whisk in milk and bring to a boil. Stir until thick and smooth then reduce to a simmer.
- Add salt and nutmeg (optional) to taste.