Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bechamel - A Few Thoughts

Lately I've been on a bechamel roll.  My favorite is to  throw some chicken Better than Bullion in and put it on chicken, carbs, and vegetables.  Baking is optional.  You can change it up with cajun seasoning (watch the salt), cayenne pepper, thyme, white wine, powdered mustard, paprika, curry powder, . . . Anything that goes with chicken is good.  I highly recommend fresh garlic, added about a minute before the milk is added.

My best tip is to microwave the milk before you add it (works on stock in a box as well).  I have an over-sized Pyrex measuring cup that is now one of the most used items in the kitchen.  Milk burns, so it needs to be stirred constantly, and it's best to use a lower heat setting than you might use for stock.  I started my food journey using the skim milk that is already in the fridge.  With the fat from the roux, you still get some "umami" or whatever it is that skim milk lacks.  Then, I went on a whole milk tear.  Yeah, it was a wonderful time, but I'm not so naive as to think that I can do that every day and stay out of the emergency room.  So lately, I've settled on 2% milk.  I still break out the whole milk or cream for special occasions, but 2% seems to strike a balance between texture and guilt.  Your mileage may vary.

My final suggestion is to experiment with your fat for the roux.  I baked up some chicken thighs (skin left on for the cooking - very important) and used the fat to make my roux for the sauce.  Since this was going to be baked into a casserole, it would not hurt the chicken to sit while a made the sauce (and the sauce was not going to take that long since I heated the milk in the microwave).    What I found was that the resulting roux seemed to have water in it.  That leaves you two choices - 1) reduce the fat to steam off the water; 2) add some extra fat like butter or olive oil.  If you don't do this, you may find that the sauce takes extra time to thicken up and/or it doesn't thicken up like you expect.  Casseroles are forgiving about the thickness of your sauce, but I like it pretty thick myself, so keep this in mind if you want a thick sauce from your drippings.

And finally, that non-foodies are always impressed when you tell them that you made a "bechamel" from scratch.

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