Knowing the basic white sauce ratio will serve you well for creamed vegetables and casseroles. If you didn’t grow up around folks who cook or you weren’t lucky enough to take 7th grade home economics, basic white sauce is sure to be a major A-HA moment for you.
The French call it béchamel (the Americans, canned mushroom soup). This most basic of the mother sauces is the foundation of every creamy casserole and side dish on the Thanksgiving table. Creamed onions, creamed spinach, creamed peas, creamed corn, cauliflower au gratin, broccoli casserole, green bean casserole, you name it, they each depend on white sauce. Step away from the can opener and watch the magic happen.
Just remember 2:2:1. The 2:2:1 white sauce ratio represents the three simple ingredients in medium white sauce—two tablespoons of flour to two tablespoons of butter to one cup of milk. Scale up or down these amounts according to how much sauce you need. For a big 9 x 13 family-size casserole you’ll probably need 3 cups of white sauce to about 6 to 8 cups of lightly cooked and chopped vegetables.
Consider using frozen vegetables for this application because they are already chopped, easy to measure, and usually don’t need much if any pre-cooking beyond a couple minutes of nuking. Another helpful guideline is about one pound of vegetable to one cup of sauce. And if your sauce feels a bit thick remember that the water in the vegetables will loosen it up. Or, just add a little milk.
Crank up the flavor of basic white sauce with other ingredients. Sauté chopped mushrooms and/or onions in the butter before adding the flour. Make a cheese sauce by stirring in a cup of grated cheese just as the sauce is ready. Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyere, Swiss, and pepper jack all work well. Use a flavorful broth in place of part of the milk if you like. Stir in a little sherry. Try a spoonful of Dijon mustard or a pinch of curry powder. The variations are endless.
Combine your vegetables with the creamy sauce and serve as is or bake au gratin, topped with buttery bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or fried onions, in a casserole at 350°F for about 30 minutes. If you’ve made the casserole ahead and plan to cook it later, cover with foil and bake. Uncover and top with the buttered crumbs and bake an additional 10 minutes.
Sure, it’s amazing what soup can do. It’s even more amazing what 2:2:1 can do. That’s what homemade white sauce is, mmm-mmm good.
Creamy Casserole Suggestions
Green Bean Casserole—Make the white sauce with plenty of chopped mushrooms and add a splash of sherry. Use frozen French cut green beans and top with canned fried onions or bread crumbs and sliced almonds.
Cauliflower Au Gratin—Spread thawed, frozen cauliflower pieces in the casserole and top with a nutty Gruyere cheese white sauce. Top with sliced almonds.
Green Chili Green Beans—Make a sharp cheddar white sauce and stir in frozen or canned New Mexico green chilies. Toss with cooked green beans.
Cabbage Casserole—Toss cabbage blanched in boiling water with a cheesy white sauce. Top with crushed cracker crumbs and bake.
Creamed Onions—Combine pearl onions with white sauce. Season with white pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.
Creamed Peas and Onions—Combine thawed frozen peas and lightly nuked pearl onions with white sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Creamed Spinach—Combine frozen thawed and squeezed dry spinach with white sauce flavored with onion and a splash of sherry or Pernod. Serve as is, or bake au gratin sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
Creamed Corn—Combine thawed frozen corn, sautéed onions, and red bell pepper with white sauce in a casserole. Top with buttered bread crumbs and bake.
Broccoli Casserole—Use thawed chopped broccoli and blend with the white sauce. Add bits of chopped ham. Top with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Pinch of nutmeg, optional
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.
Whisk in the flour and cook and stir about a minute to cook the flour and eliminate the raw starchy flavor.
Stir in the milk and cook, stirring frequently, until bubbly and thickened.
Makes 1 cup.