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About this recipe: This classic French white sauce is used in a wide variety of dishes. Many flavouring ingredients can be added to make a number of different sauces.
For a cheese sauce, stir in 55 g (2 oz) grated mature Cheddar, Gruyre or Parmesan cheese and 1 tsp Dijon mustard just before serving. * For an onion sauce, do not add the onion or shallots when infusing the milk. Finely chop 2 onions and cook in the butter over a low heat for 10 minutes or until softened but not browned, then stir in the flour. Pure the finished sauce in a blender or food processor if a smooth result is required. * For a mushroom sauce, slice 300 g (10 1/2 oz) button mushrooms and cook in the butter for 5 minutes before stirring in the flour. * A one-stage bchamel sauce is quick, and it can be a good way of making a lower-fat sauce as the butter can be reduced or omitted. Pour the milk into a heavy-based saucepan and gradually whisk in the flour, sprinkling it lightly over the milk as you whisk. Slice the onion or shallots and add with all the remaining ingredients, including the butter, if using. Whisk the sauce over a moderate heat until it comes to the boil and thickens, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Strain the sauce, or use a draining spoon to remove the flavouring ingredients, and add seasoning to taste. * For a cornflour-thickened béchamel, omit the butter and flour, and mix 4 tbsp cornflour to a smooth paste with a little of the milk. Infuse the remaining milk as above. Strain and heat to boiling point, then pour a little into the cornflour mixture, stirring. Return this to the milk in the saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sauce thickens, and simmer for 2 minutes.