We begin the section Roux-Béchamel-Cheese Sauce with definitions of the terms that will be used later:
A Roux is a mixture of some type of fat and an equal measure of flour that is mixed together after the fat has been heated in a pan. This process helps to minimize lump formation and cooks out the raw flour flavor. The fat can come in the form of butter, a vegetable oil such as olive oil, or in the case of a gravy base, the fat drippings from a roasting pan. Note that the more you cook the flour, the less thickening power it will have, but the more flavor it develops.
A Béchamel Sauce is the classic French white sauce that is used in many different dishes including some recipes found on this website for homemade macaroni and cheese. This sauce begins with a basic Roux to which a liquid is added and mixed in while heating. This liquid can be water, canned broth, milk, half and half or heavy cream depending on your desired result.
Any Cheese Sauce begins with a basic Béchamel Sauce to which finely shredded or cubed cheese is added to the hot mixture and whisked until the cheese is melted completely and there is a consistent lump free texture to the sauce. At tis time, any spices or seasoning that you want to put into the dish can be added. This will give an equal distribution of the spices-seasonings flavors to the entire recipe.
Below is a brief guide, to help you to prepare a foolproof Roux-Béchamel-Cheese Sauce:
Heat the fat over medium-high heat. In this example, I’m using butter so melt it until the water in the butter just starts to sizzle. If using a vegetable oil, such as olive oil, heat it until a drop of water dropped into the heated oil just starts to sizzle.
When the fat is heated, add all the flour and quickly mix it in.
Notice how the fat starts to bubble and thicken after mixing in the flour.
Stir the mixture constantly. The flour and fat mixture will continue to bubble as it cooks. The longer you cook the mixture in this stage the darker it will become and the less thickening power it will have. In this photograph it is in the white stage, which is perfect for white sauces like Béchamel.
In this photograph the Roux is at the blond stage which is great for light gravies and sauces.
Here the Roux has continued cooking until it has reached the brown stage which is great for dark gravies and stews. The next stage is brick (dark reddish brown) for something like gumbo. Just be careful not to overcook it and get the black (burned) stage.
When the Roux cooks to the darkness you desire, add a third of the liquid. The liquid will boil very quickly so be cautious of steam rising from the mixture. In the photograph to the left, I am using milk. You can use any liquid you choose, including water, canned broth, milk, half and half or heavy cream depending on your desired result.
You will then see the flour “seize” meaning the mixture will turn into a thick paste as the starch in the flour absorbs the liquid. Continue whisking briskly to minimize lumps.
When this mixture is smooth, add another third of the liquid and continue whisking constantly. It may seem a little lumpy but keep whisking to smooth it out.
When the mixture is smooth again, add the remaining liquid, continuing to whisk to keep it smooth until it starts to simmer.
Once the Béchamel Sauce starts to simmer, reduce the heat under the pan to low and add the shredded or cubed cheese. Allow the cheese to melt into the mixture completely. When you’re done, you should have a rich smooth sauce. You can now use it according to the homemade macaroni and cheese recipe you are using.