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How to Make White Sauce - the Basis for all Savoury Sauces

Updated on June 11, 2013

Instead of just opening a ready-made packet mix, learn how to make a white sauce yourself. It is so easy and so versatile.

White sauce is used in many dishes and recipes, and savoury sauces are just the basic white sauce with something else added, but did you know about the history of sauces?

Sauces first came into use during the Middle Ages to disguise the flavour of rancid meat, or meat that had been inadequately stored or cured.

Nowadays they are used to enhance the flavour of bland food, to add colour to simple meals or to moisturise otherwise dry foodstuffs.

I'm a big fan of sauces, using them at every opportunity.

What is nicer than steaks served with a pepper sauce or cooked chicken served with a béchamel sauce over rice?

The Savoury Sauces are:

  • White
  • brown and
  • egg-based sauces
  • cold sauces
  • salad dressings
  • Horseradish, mint and pureed fruit do not belong in any particular sub-group.

French chefs have created most of the hundreds of the variations on the basic savoury sauces.

The Dessert group consists of:

  • fruit sauces
  • chocolate sauces
  • butterscotch sauces
  • syrup, cream or other sweetened sauces

and most originated in England or the US.

The main ingredient of all sauces is the basic liquid, which may be milk, wine, stock, vegetable or fruit juices.

These are thickened with fat, flour, arrowroot, eggs, cream or blood, or they may be boiled down (reduced) to the desired consistency.

Ingredients for a White Sauce

  • ¾ oz butter or margarine

  • 2 level tablespoons flour

  • ½ milk or milk and stock

  • salt and pepper

Basic White Sauce
Basic White Sauce

How to Make a White Sauce

The basic white sauce is prepared either by the roux method or the blending method.

Roux Method

A roux is usually composed of equal amounts of butter and flour which are then combined with a liquid (usually milk) to the required consistency.

Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, add the flour, mix well with a wooden spoon, add the liquid little by little, stirring all the time to ensure equal distribution of the flour and the avoidance of lumps until all the liquid has been added. Heat over a medium setting on the cooker until it is boiling, stirring all the time to prevent lumps forming. When it has reached boiling point, reduce heat and let it simmer for a couple of minutes before adding seasoning as required.

Blending Method

This requires mixing the thickening agent with a little cold milk until it has formed a smooth paste, meanwhile putting the rest of the liquid on to boil. Then pour the hot liquid over the cold paste, mix well and return the entire mixture to the pan and bring back to the boil over a low heat, stirring all the time. Reduce heat and simmer for couple of minutes, then add seasoning as required.

Variations of the Basic White Sauce

Velouté , Béchamel and other savoury sauces are variations of the basic white sauce in that they require the addition of a hot savoury sauce instead of, or as well as, milk.

It is important to note that boiling liquid should never be added to a roux sauce as it could turn the sauce lumpy and ruin it.

Instead let your boiling liquid, whether that be milk or stock, stand for a few minutes until it has cooled a little.

Do not make your sauce until it is actually required either, because chemical changes take place within the thickening agent used, and you will find that sauce which is kept warm over a low heat will turn watery as the flour grains separate.

Fish sauces

Fish need a white sauce with the addition of fish stock.

Brown sauces

For brown sauces, cook the initial fat/flour mix for a few minutes longer until it has turned brown in colour before adding liquid, which should be either a brown stock or a mixture of milk and a brown stock.

For vegetarians, add vegetable stock.

Ready-mixed sauces

While I am quite happy to make sauces as and when I need them, I must admit to finding it more convenient nowadays to be able to go to the store and buy a ready -mixed sauce in a packet and to make it up following the directions on the back.

I have found them to be just as good as any I can make at home, though I would advise that when cooking for numbers it is certainly much cheaper to make your own sauce.

How to Make a White Cream sauce

Making a white cream sauce is easy.

Use: 2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup flour

Juice of 1 lemon

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan and stir until it thickens.

5 stars from 1 rating of white sauce recipe


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    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Very useful descriptions and recipes. I enjoyed the little bit of history too. Thanks

      Love and peace


    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      You're welcome :)

      Noting worse than lumpy sauce, and then spending ages trying to get the lumps out!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      I've made brown gravy for many years and learned from your article that cooling the liquid will help prevent lumps. Thanks for that tip and for the well written instructions for making sauces.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      Thanks mystery! My mum got me making white sauce when I was a kid so I had to look up recipes to find the quantities of the ingredients used. I'd made it so often I know just by looking how much I need of flour etc.

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 7 years ago from Florida

      Although I do make my own white sauce (so easy), I'll admit to using Knorr Pesto. Another good hub.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      I know LOL what am I like? I don't feel guilty because even if they are full of E additives, Spain is not known for having readymeals available in the shops like they do in the UK so in the main my diet here is much healthier than it would be at home. I cook nearly everything from scratch so if I can cut a corner off here or there, I'll do it, just for a change!

    • Merlin Fraser profile image

      Merlin Fraser 7 years ago from Cotswold Hills

      Shame on you Izzy, fancy admitting to using packet sauce mix Tut Tut !

      Almost as bad as the adverts on the telly about home cooking, open a tin of this, 4 chicken joints and pour over a jar of that....

      Call me old fashioned but when I'm cooking I like to know what's going into my dish.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      Luckily doesn't happen too often these days, but it has happened in the past!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Sauces can be easy to make but also easy to get wrong