Bechamel is one of the five mother sauces. This means it is a base for many things. If used plain, frequently onion and nutmeg are added. Keep this recipe and you don't need a bunch of recipes for variations like Au Gratin. Make it your own.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly, about 1 to 2 minutes.
NOTE - It is best to use warm to hot liquids when making sauce, which helps to prevent lumps. Also, constant stirring will help prevent the sauce from scorching on the bottom. If sauce turns lumpy, whisk vigorously with a wire whip or strain through a wire sieve before serving.
Stir in milk or other liquid. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Option: Reduce milk by the same amount you add white wine, sherry or brandy will create a lovely flavor.
CHEESE SAUCE - Once sauce is made, remove from heat and stir in 1/2 to 1 cup sharp Cheddar cheese (or whatever flavor compliments what you are making -- better yet use 2 different cheeses), stirring until melted. To Au Gratin anything use this sauce mixed with potatoes, veggies, meats or whatever and heat through. Top with seasoned bread crumbs and more cheese finishing in the broiler.
CURRY SAUCE - Stir in 1/2 teaspoon curry powder with the flour.
DILL SAUCE - Stir in 1 teaspoon chopped fresh, or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed and a dash of ground nutmeg with the flour.
Add 1/2 cup grated cheese to 1 cup of hot sauce; stir over low heat until cheese is melted. Season with a little mustard or Worcestershire sauce to taste.
Substitute chicken, beef, fish, or vegetable broth for the milk.
Add 1 teaspoon of freshly chopped herbs or 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs to 1 cup of hot sauce. Cook for a minute or two longer to get more flavor from the herbs.
Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of heavy cream to the finished sauce. For an onion flavor, add an onion slice to the milk when heating; remove onion slice before adding milk to flour and butter mixture.
Combine 1 teaspoon dry mustard to flour used in sauce. This sauce is especially good with fish and chicken.