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Should I introduce the milk hot or cold when making white (béchamel) sauce?


Searching around I found multiple opposite opnions, like on this answer (see the comments).

Also different advice from famous chefs:

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As you see from the variety of advise from reputable sources, many combinations of hot/cold roux and liquid will work.

From a convenience point of view, you want at least one of them hot in order to speed the integration. If you started both of them cold, it would probably work but take a while to warm up to melt the butter in the roux, and free the flour particles to integrate and create the sauce@mdash;and it will won't fully thicken until the mixture is at a boil, so this is inefficient. You would probably also have to mash and stir more frequently to prevent local burning.

If you start with both hot, it will also work, although you might have to whisk relatively quickly—but who has both a hot base and a hot roux sitting around? Usually, at least one was prepared in advance, even if only by a few minutes. Batali is recommending this method, but note that in the professional kitchen, where he lives, time is the most constrained resource, so this is his method of choice. His line cooks probably have hot roux ready at all times.

A hot roux is easier to scoop and measure.

A hot liquid will quickly melt and dissolve the roux.

But in any case, if the roux is properly made, the starch granules are surrounded by fat, and so are not going to cause lumping in any case, despite Ramsay's advise. As soon as the mixture is warm enough to melt the butter, the particles are going to move away from one another, and won't be able to clump together before they are hydrated.

So I would not worry about this in the slightest.

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    You can also make several weeks worth of roux at one time and keep it in the freezer. Scoop it out like ice cream, and have your whisk ready. Hoorah! – Jolenealaska Oct 19 '13 at 15:57
  • So basically I should just follow the advice from Marco Pierre, hot rue + cold milk or cold rue + hot milk, and never hot + hot, right? – talles Oct 20 '13 at 14:17
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    You won't go wrong doing that. – SAJ14SAJ Oct 20 '13 at 21:45
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In my experience the secret to great roux sauce is to add the milk very slowly at the beginning. Keeping the hob temperature low, add a splash of milk to the butter/flour mixture, stir, and repeat. Gradually increase the amount of milk added in each turn, and soon you'll have a smooth white sauce with no lumps. When the sauce is looking more liquid than solid you can increase the hob temperature slightly too, but don't over-do it as the sauce might curdle.

I haven't found any difference between using room-temperature milk, and milk straight from the fridge. The biggest factor is not adding too much milk at the earliest stages - patience is the key!

  • Agreed ... see cooking.stackexchange.com/a/4421/67 for more details. – Joe Sep 11 '14 at 13:04
  • I learned it from my mother many years ago :-) – David Kirkland Sep 11 '14 at 13:06
  • I could have sworn that I'd read somewhere (McGee?) that the main effect of adding the liquid very slowly at the beginning, is that it gets heated up before you add the next batch. Thus, it's a legitimate method of incorporating the liquid, but it's equivalent to bringing the liquid to (close to) the boil separately and then incorporating that into the roux more quickly. However, I can't find this now - certainly not in McGee... – Erik P. Jan 6 '17 at 2:02
  • @ErikP. - ah, heating may or may nor be one effect of adding liquid slowly,I'd like to see that if you ever find it, but it is far from the only effect. The basic technique (thick paste and thin slowly) works for cold liquids and powders as well, in minimizing/preventing lumps. I've found even with hot milk adding too quickly can cause lumps that are difficult to smooth out because the difference in texture is too great. – Megha May 20 '18 at 2:13
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I have had trouble when adding cold milk to very hot roux. The first milk to hit the pan thickens too fast into a paste that I then have to work out of the sauce. I have had decent luck using a cool roux with cold milk, but the smoothest and fastest sauce has been with hot roux and hot milk, added 1 cup at a time.

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    What do you mean by "added one cup at a time"? The general recommendation is to add milk very slowly, as mentioned in David's answer. Do you do this or do you dump the entire cup in at once? In my experience, there's no difference between milk temps results if you just add it very slowly at the start. – Catija Jan 31 '17 at 1:00
  • @Catija I don't know about such a "general recommendation" but for me, slowly never works, dumping is the way to go. – rumtscho Jan 31 '17 at 8:18
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If you heat the milk there is no need to add it slowly or in tiny amounts. Heat it in the microwave, and While it's heating, crush together the butter & flour with a fork. Then add the hot milk to the pan and scrape in the butter/flour mix. The hot milk gets to work on the butter/flour and immediately the flour does its job and thickens, it's prevented from lumping by being mixed with the butter; stir briskly until it's all incorporated, then add the cheese and flavourings. You'll thank me!!!

  • You are talking about something different here. Yours is called beurre manié, which is prepared cold. A roux is always cooked before the addition of liquids. – Stephie May 20 '18 at 6:38

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