10

Twice I attempted to make a roux for béchamel sauce, and twice I failed.

Both times I used a ratio of 1:1, first time I weighted the butter and the flour second time I used tablespoons. First time I continuously whisked the roux, second time I mixed it with a spoon. Both times I cooked the roux under low heat.

First time, I ended up with solid blobs of butter/flour. I added my milk and cooked it for 15 minutes, it wasn't as thick as I'd like it but I was running out of time.

Second time, I didn't see the roux become white and like wet sand, it went straight into blonde. I added the milk, and it took over one hour for it to thicken. I believe the butter separated because the milk started looking yellowish. Even after vigorous whisking it still looked yellow, and it only went back to white after the milk had been cooking for about 40 minutes.

I've read multiple websites and watched countless videos but I can't figure out what I did wrong. Any ideas?

EDIT: For the sake of education I want to edit this post, because I finally figured out what was wrong with my roux (sorry if this isn't the way to do it and feel free to edit the post in that case).

The issue with my roux was the pot I was cooking with. I own mostly stainless steel pots from the same portuguese brand, but this weekend I bought a new enameled cast iron pan. I made the roux in the cast iron pan, and it turned beautifully and just how a roux is supposed to be.

Thank you to all who contributed to this thread.

15
  • 5
    btw, you want a wooden spatula for a roux, so you can scrape the pan bottom & sides as it starts to pull together. Spoon or whisk will both miss the corners.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 25, 2023 at 8:11
  • 1
    @LightBender - sorry, but for similar reasons to not wanting a spoon with a corner in it, I don't need a roux whisk. 40 years I've managed without, I doubt it's going to improve my technique noticeably now ;))) A roux really isn't that hard to make that it needs a dedicated tool.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 25, 2023 at 17:08
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    FWIW, there are a couple responses which recommend adding the milk in some special way. As someone who's made 100s of bechamels, that's unnecessary; just dump all the milk in at once, cold. Works fine.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jul 25, 2023 at 17:13
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    I also use a regular, nonstick balloon whisk for bechamel, switching to a spatula or spoon once it gets thick. Again, has not been an issue. Folks really overthink this.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jul 25, 2023 at 17:14
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    @FuzzyChef - tbh, the reason I do it bit by bit is that's the way I was taught, by the executive chef of a very successful restaurant… who just also happened to be my girlfriend at the time ;))
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 25, 2023 at 17:34

8 Answers 8

21

I'm going to give you my grandma's tip:

  • Start your béchamel with waaaaay too little milk; add maybe 25% of your milk
  • Then let it thicken (should take a few minutes, be careful not to miss it)
  • Add 25% again and wait for it to thicken, then again add the milk, etc.

You sort of quick start the reaction like this. Never failed me :)

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    That's the way they teach it in cookery college too - but either way, your flour must be cooked first, or it will not work. This is also a scary method first time you ever see it, as the first bit of milk will turn it all into something like a big piece of chewing gum you think will never mix in… it does, though :)
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 25, 2023 at 8:08
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    I find it even easier to add something like a splash, another splash, 10%, 10%, 20%, 30%, then the rest, to avoid lumps. The "magic roux moment" is when you add the (liquid) milk to the liquid roux, and get a soft solid, but it's easier to mix with the bulk liquid if you soften it first, incrementally (@Tetsujin - I reckon with more practice it could be sped up compared to my approach, but I'm typically not trying to do anything else at the same time)
    – Chris H
    Jul 25, 2023 at 10:50
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    @ChrisH - yeah, tbh a roux/bechamel is not something I ever measure, a dollop of butter, a shake of flour & some milk, added bit by bit as I get round to it.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 25, 2023 at 10:54
  • Thank you, this seems easy enough and I'll try it next time!
    – LissaC
    Jul 25, 2023 at 11:08
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    @Fattie - tbh, with a bechamel, 15 minutes is too long ;))) Especially when it's only one of many components, all needing to be plated together. You need to know how long it takes & be able to repeat that every time, or something else will go wrong.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 27, 2023 at 15:42
17

It sounds to me like you aren't using enough heat. Low heat on a small burner won't even melt butter. It should take 2-3 minutes to make a roux for bechamel sauce, tops. Start with 50:50 by weight butter and flour, medium heat, as soon as the butter is melted add the flour and stir. If it's still a bit blobby add a small amount more butter or neutral oil until it loosens up. Once it's bubbly turn it down a bit and cook for a minute, then add your milk.

After you add your milk turn it way up and keep stirring (a whisk is good here) until it thickens, then turn it down. That's all there is to it.

4
  • Yes, probably too gentle. My small burner is a little more powerful - it would melt butter eventually. But I use it on full (800W nominal) until the butter is melted, turn it down when I add the flour, back up just after I start adding the milk (which I do very gradually, and in quite a light pan, so it can warm back up too quickly if I turn it up too early).
    – Chris H
    Jul 24, 2023 at 10:19
  • Thank you, I'll try this next time!
    – LissaC
    Jul 25, 2023 at 11:08
  • 1
    I typically start by just melting butter and then adding flour gradually until the consistency of the roux is right. Jul 26, 2023 at 3:12
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    That's one way to do it @KarlKnechtel, the only thing there is that you get an inconsistent amount of flour, if you need to be precise that's not a good thing. For most recipes it isn't that critical.
    – GdD
    Jul 26, 2023 at 7:41
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+100

Your roux isn't getting hot enough. You need to be working over at least a medium heat. Melt the butter and wait for it to get frothy - that indicates the butter is at least 100C if not higher, Then add your flour and mix - I use a ball whisk for this but whatever you have that can really reach everywhere in the pan. Note: At this point you have a "white" roux even though the color of it is going to be yellowish. That color is coming from the butter. The "color" a roux is actually describing how toasted the flour has become. So a white roux is basically untoasted flour, a blonde roux is slightly toasted, and so forth. You'd use a darker roux for things like etouffee, gumbo, and the like. Darker roux have less thickening ability than lighter roux.

If you are making a bechamel you'd use a white roux - don't cook the flour for more than a minute or so. Add the milk in a steady stream while whisking vigourously or add it in batches whisking it smooth between each addition. Bring it up to a simmer and cook until you get the desired thickness.

2
  • to get frothy ... it clear there are incredibly different approaches to making roux!
    – Fattie
    Jul 27, 2023 at 11:52
  • This is an outstanding explanation of the relationship color / flour. Good one.
    – Fattie
    Jul 27, 2023 at 11:53
1

You state that you used a 1:1 ratio both times, but that the first time you weighed and the second time you went by volume. a 1:1 ratio of butter to flour by volume does not render equal weights of the two ingredients. I'm not in my kitchen to fully verify this (and also in the UK where butter doesn't come in sticks and we don't measure it in spoonfuls) but googling for the weight in grams of a tablespoon of butter and of flour suggests that a tbs of butter is about 14g and a tbs of general purpose flour is anywhere between 7.8-10g. So if your 1:1 ration, measured in spoons did not account for that, you will have only had about 55% of the weight of flour compared to butter, and this is likely the source of your problems. You also don't say anything about the volume of milk you used. I generally use approximately 9-10ml milk to each gram of flour and butter, so for 65g each of butter and milk I use 600-650ml milk, depending on how thick I want the sauce. Given that there is a limit to the accuracy of scales I always finesse the amount of milk by eye.

I wonder if part of what allowed an over-thin sauce to thicken after an our was partly evaporation of excess liquid.

I can't comment on the colour changes as I can't really visualise them in relation to my own sauce making experience and I wonder whether there is enough difference in mild and butter between your country and mine to account for that. (I only use the highest fat milk and butter I can lay my hands on for bechamel, so it is only ever shades of yellow, never white).

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  • +1 but note that Delia uses 2:1 butter:flour by weight and it works. I follow her recipe but add a little more flour and a little more milk (then loads of cheese). I think our UK butter tends to be a bit more yellow than American.
    – Chris H
    Jul 28, 2023 at 15:45
  • I'll second Chris H - butter-heavy rouxes are quite common, and they work well. The milk volume is a more interesting question. 1:10 gives a quite thick sauce though, and even if the OP used 2-3 times more milk, they would have seen that sudden moment of thickening happen before their eyes, just up to a viscosity of maybe a sauce anglaise instead of bechamel-like. This would probably have resulted in a different description.
    – rumtscho
    Jul 29, 2023 at 12:41
  • Delia literally defines "get it done" cooking.
    – Fattie
    Aug 3, 2023 at 13:17
0

In the Joy of Cooking, they recommend baking your Roux. I have found this to be extremely effective, freeing up time to do other things while the Roux bakes. When it's baking, you care way less how much time it takes!

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  • Note that the question contained some confusion about roux and bechamel. Does The Joy of Cooking actually recommend making béchamel in the oven, or does it only recommend making the roux there?
    – rumtscho
    Jul 27, 2023 at 14:59
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    That seems like a roux you'd use for gumbo as opposed to a bechamel - which should be very very pale. Jul 28, 2023 at 15:40
  • Sorry, my confusion. Joy of Cooking is talking about Bechamel in the oven. Not Roux. I wasn't aware of the difference until now.
    – John
    Jul 30, 2023 at 3:11
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just want to share an update. I tried making bechamel again using a combination of two of the advice shared here: I cranked up the heat to medium high, and added the sauce in small batches. This definitely made it faster and easier to thicken the sauce. Thank you everyone for your tips!

-1

I'm coming back here because I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. It was not the temperature of the butter, or the quantity of the ingredients, but the type of pan I was using. I was using a stainless steel pan that's apparently not thick enough for this kind of cooking. Soon as I added my flour to the butter I always ended up with this: enter image description here

So I tried making the roux in an enameled cast iron pan today, and it worked just the way it should.

4
  • That’s what my roux often looks like. I typically just use my spatula to spread it out across the bottom of the pan so it can cook. Or you could add a little bit of oil to try to get it a little thinner first, but not much.
    – Joe
    Oct 5, 2023 at 20:34
  • Sadly adding oil has never worked. And I always end up with clumps of roux in my bechamel. But I'm glad I finally figured it out.
    – LissaC
    Oct 5, 2023 at 21:31
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    A thicker pan may make it easier to apply more heat without burning the sauce, but using a thinner pan doesn't really explain the problems you were having. I'm glad it's working for you now (and by all means you should use a pan that works for you), but I'm skeptical that this was the core issue, especially if you weren't scorching the sauce before. Oct 7, 2023 at 19:47
  • @RubenvanBergen's right. I almost always use a light aluminium non-stick pan, sometimes a thin uncoated stainless pan, and both work equally well. I never make bechamel and rarely roux in my heavy pans. That stage that looks like mashed potato is what I think of as the magic stage - when you add thin liquid to thick liquid and get a solid; keep adding milk incrementally and it will go liquid again
    – Chris H
    Oct 16, 2023 at 8:42
-4

You're cooking it way, way too quickly.

I take about two hours to make roux.

(I've only ever made roux in Bourgogne, regions may differ.)

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    How dark are you making your roux for bechamel? It's supposed to be a very pale sauce. This isn't for gumbo or anything like that. Jul 28, 2023 at 15:40

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