You Can Always Béchamel It!

Just a couple evenings ago I was enjoying a long-awaited IPA (first beer after 2 weeks in the hospital and a week of recovery… long story…) with a good friend of mine and he said he was stuck on a food problem a week prior and sheepishly admitted that he was selfishly bummed that he couldn’t call me for some quick inspiration. He just wanted to do something with asparagus that would kick the meal up beyond the expected.

His dilemma was pretty simple – and typical of what many of us run into quite frequently. Taking something beyond the expected. Just replace ‘asparagus’ with any side ingredient that has been bastardized into food pablum… minute rice, asparagus in a can, frozen peas, or any other vegetable that gets unceremoniously murdered by over-cooking, over-steaming, over-nuking or over neglecting to draw on any other resources than the uninspired food memories of our childhood.

So, I gave my buddy two things to chew on so he could be well-equipped for his next “deal with this” opportunity:

First – he needed to know that few things bring out the sweet and woodsy flavors of asparagus than proper grilling. That one I could detail over a beer and know that he could carry it home via memory alone. Drizzle with olive oil. Liberal kosher salt and cracked pepper. Med-high grill and pull it as soon as you have a bit o’ char on the stalks. Crisp tender is the goal. You could always roast ’em and get similar results, but that’s another post (stay tuned).

Second – béchamel it! There was no way I could break down making a proper béchamel whilst in a noisy pub (let alone running the risk of positively boring most of my other friends around the same table), but it gave me the opportunity to tell him that it just so happened that my long-awaited food blog was finally live and that this is exactly the sort of thing that I created this blog to accomplish. So here I am making good on the promise that I would spell out how to make this ever-so-foundational sauce. There are vegetables that need to be glorified; a wife that needs to be wooed, and a humble dinner that needs to be elevated to at least “what the hell got into you?” status! Don’t get me wrong – there are many more levels higher. But we needed to start somewhere.

The Béchamel

1 T fat (butter, lard, your choice – but if you’re any kind of food-obsessed nerd, you save your bacon drippings religiously. If you’re like me, you also have another container for those special times you can save some glorious duck fat. This recipe is precisely why you do such things)

1 T flour (note – more important than the exact measurement is that you really just need equal part fat to flour)

1/2 pint heavy cream (have some extra on hand in case it gets too thick)

Salt and pepper to taste

Other ingredients are totally at your bliss. This by itself will taste pretty doggone good, but it’s that fifth element that will create a classic “deal with this” moment. Suggestions: Minced garlic or chives. ANY fresh chopped herbs like, thyme, sage, or oregano. Spices like smoked paprika, or spice blends. Grated hard cheeses like, parmesan, asiago, manchego or pecorino romano – or if going for total bonus points, score some aged dry jack. The possibilities are endless. That’s why this is one of the 5 “mother” sauces in French cuisine. You need to have this one in your bag, folks.

Put a heavy-bottom stainless-steel (or cast iron) fry pan on a med-high burner. Melt the fat then add the flour and whisk or stir with a wooden spoon (I prefer the whisk) until everything is smooth and liquified. Don’t let it start to turn brown (we ain’t makin gumbo… At least not yet).

Add the heavy cream and keep stirring. It will start to thicken almost instantly, and you’ll know pretty quick if you have too much or too little.

What you have now is pretty bland, so season it by getting a healthy pinch of salt in there along with several grinds of pepper. Taste it. Add more S & P if you think it needs it.

Now start to add in your extra “bliss” ingredients. If you’re adding cheese, go easy. We don’t necessarily want to make a cheese sauce (this is actually how you would start a mac-n-cheese recipe). If things start to get too thick on you just whisk in more cream. Keep tasting tasting tasting.

Congrats. You’re officially the family hero. Pour this stuff over your asparagus, my friend. This is also killer over roasted broccoli. You can also pour this over grilled meats, too. It’s fantastic with pork tenderloin. Heck, pour it over your head or dump it down your pants. It’s that good.


3 Responses to “You Can Always Béchamel It!”

  1. Lisa West says:

    Bechamel is the best!

  2. Aunt Tami says:

    I have been wondering what to do with my duck fat!!!! Thanks!

  3. Ashley Brand says:

    I made a home made lasagna (from scratch) on V-day that included a béchamel sauce! I had never heard of it but it was delicious! John was shocked when I told him it was just butter, flour and milk. =) It never occurred to me to make it for other applications, until now…

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