While its French name may sound intimidating, learning how to make a béchamel sauce is easier than you might think. Known as one of the "mother" sauces in classic French cuisine, Béchamel is versatile: It's used in dishes such as lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and moussaka, and it can also serve as the base for soufflés, soups, and savory pie fillings. What's more, add a little Swiss cheese, and voilà—you've got Mornay Sauce. We call for white pepper so it isn't visible in the sauce. If it's unavailable, you can omit it.
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Combine milk, onion, grated nutmeg, and bay leaf in a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 15 minutes.
Flavor Boost: Onion lends the sauce a faintly sweet note. For an even more aromatic béchamel, add a crushed garlic clove to the steeping milk.
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After the milk mixture stands for 15 minutes, strain it through a fine sieve over a bowl to catch the onions and bay leaf.
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Wipe the pan clean with paper towels. Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add flour to pan and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly to form a roux that will thicken the sauce.
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Gradually add strained milk mixture, stirring with a whisk until blended. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. The resulting béchamel, also known as white sauce, will bring out the rich creaminess in a dish without resorting to saturated fat-laden cream.