Béchamel sauce is a rich and velvety white sauce that's commonly used to make many different kinds of lasagna. This magical sauce requires only a small handful of ingredients and turns a pan of lasagna into something deliciously comforting and utterly indulgent.
Béchamel sauce is a white sauce that's included as one of the five mother sauces of classical cuisine. "Mother sauce" refers to a basic sauce that's the starting point for making other sauces. For example, Béchamel is the base for many popular white sauces, cream sauces and cheese-based sauces like the classic Mornay Sauce.
In this recipe, the sauce is flavored with a hint of nutmeg, crushed red pepper flakes, parmesan cheese, and Italian parsley. It's perfect for any kind of lasagna that calls for white sauce including:
Ingredients Needed to Make Béchamel Sauce
Classic Béchamel Sauce (Besciamella) requires just three ingredients:
From there, the sauce can be flavored and used in many ways. In this recipe for Béchamel Sauce for Lasagna, the sauce is flavored with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, parmesan cheese, and Italian Parsley.
This makes a creamy and flavorful white sauce that's the perfect addition to many kinds of lasagna.
- All-Purpose Flour. Béchamel sauce begins with a roux - a combination of flour and butter that serves as a thickening agent.
- Butter. I used salted butter but if you're sensitive to salt, use unsalted butter.
- Whole Milk or Half & Half. Both create a smooth, creamy sauce, but Béchamel sauce made with half & half is richer and slightly thicker than sauce made with whole milk.
- Salt and Pepper. White or ground black black pepper work equally well in Béchamel sauce.
- Nutmeg and Crushed Red Pepper. Both of these spices are optional both in the amount you use and whether you use them at all.
- Parmesan Cheese. Classic Béchamel sauce does not include cheese, but when making Béchamel sauce for lasagna, stirring in some grated parmesan is the perfect way to add flavor and more cheesy goodness to whatever kind of lasagna you're making.
- Italian Parsley. Also known as flat leaf parsley.
Additions and Substitutions
This classic white sauce is a blank slate for pretty much anything you want to add to it. Flavoring the sauce with a pinch of nutmeg, crushed red pepper and flat leaf Italian parsley is an all-purpose seasoning mix that lends itself to many different uses. But, feel free to include any additions and substitutions that will compliment the flavors of whatever kind of lasagna you are making. Here are a few suggestions:
- Use other kinds of fresh herbs instead of or in addition to Italian parsley. Fresh basil, thyme, oregano, and sage are all delicious additions to Béchamel sauce. Whatever fresh herbs you're using, add them as the last step, after you've removed the sauce from the heat. This will ensure that the herbs remain fresh and bright tasting.
- Omit the nutmeg and/or crushed red pepper. Both of these ingredients are 100% optional both in the amount you use and whether you choose to include them at all. The key with nutmeg is to not add too much. Just a pinch adds warmth and complexity to this white sauce without making the sauce actually taste like nutmeg. As for the crushed red pepper, add as much or as little as you like to create as much or as little heat as you desire.
- Add additional dried herbs. Béchamel sauce is a blank slate to which you can add any kind of dried herbs and spices. The key with dried spices is to add them at the beginning of cooking so they have time to bloom. Add them right after stirring in the milk or half & half so they can simmer in the sauce for a bit.
- Add other kinds of cheese. Add a handful or two of any kind of melty cheese to Béchamel sauce in addition to or instead of grated parmesan.
Step-by-Step Photos and Instructions
Add some butter to a saucepan and set it over medium-low heat.
When the butter is melted, add some flour. Cook the butter and flour, whisking constantly, for a couple of minutes. This is the roux, which will thicken the Béchamel sauce.
Very slowly start to add the milk or half & half.
It's important to add the liquid to the roux slowly. Adding it quickly will cause the sauce to be lumpy.
It's also very important to whisk constantly while adding the liquid to help incorporate the liquid into the roux and keep the sauce from burning.
Once all the milk or half & half has been added continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the béchamel is thickened and does not taste like raw flour, about 10-12 minutes
The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon.
Add grated parmesan and cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in chopped fresh parsley. The sauce is now ready to use!
What is a Roux?
A roux is simply a mixture of flour and fat, cooked together over low to medium heat, and used to thicken saucy recipes like Béchamel Sauce. You can use any kind of fat to make a roux but it's usually made with canola or vegetable oil or butter.
Ways to Use Béchamel Sauce
Béchamel Sauce is essential to the rich cream flavor of four of my favorite lasagna recipes.
#1. Lasagna Béchamel with Mushroom Ragu. I wrote that eating a plateful of this mushroom lasagna is like giving yourself a gigantic hug and I stand by that sentiment 100%. This creamy mushroom lasagna is made with layers of pasta, velvety parmesan béchamel, rich and savory mushroom ragù, and melted parmesan cheese. It's pure comfort food.
#2. Lasagna Bolognese with Parmesan Béchamel. Traditionally, Lasagna Bolognese does not contain any cheese, but I like to add grated parmesan to the Béchamel Sauce anyway. Sometimes tradition can be improved upon, usually with a handful of cheese.
#3. Skillet Vegetable Lasagna with White Sauce. This vegetarian lasagna is packed with veggies! Mushrooms, garlic, onions, zucchini, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, and cauliflower are layered with creamy Béchamel Sauce, pasta, and plenty of cheese.
#4. Asian Short Rib Lasagna includes fall-off-the-bone tender short rib meat smothered in a rich Asian inspired sauce layered between wonton wrappers, white cheddar cheese, and creamy béchamel sauce. It's a decadent and unusual lasagna that will knock your socks off.
Make Ahead and Storage Instructions
Béchamel sauce can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Store the sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator.
To reheat, scrape it into a saucepan and set it over low heat. As the sauce warms, stir it often with a wire whisk, until it's smooth, creamy, and at the temperature you'd like. Or, heat it in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring with a wire whisk every 45 seconds, until it reaches the desired temperature.
If you use whole milk instead of half and half to make béchamel sauce, you can freeze it. The cream in half and half doesn't freeze as well. But, béchamel made with milk is one of the few dairy-based sauces that holds up in the freezer. Allow the sauce to defrost in the refrigerator overnight then heat in a saucepan over low heat.
If you want to freeze a lasagna that includes béchamel, be sure to use milk instead of half and half in the sauce. Allow the lasagna to defrost overnight in the refrigerator then follow these instructions for the best way to reheat lasagna.
This depends, of course, on how big of a lasagna you are making and on what other ingredients you are using in your lasagna. As a general rule, you'll want 2 - 2 ½ cups for lasagna baked in a 9-inch square baking dish or cast iron skillet and 4 - 5 cups for lasagna baked in a 9x13 rectangle baking dish.
Use it to make mac and cheese! Pour the leftover sauce into a pot and add some additional grated cheese. Cook over low heat until the cheese is melted then stir in some cooked pasta. Eat it as is or spread it into a baking dish, top with bread crumb tossed with melted butter and bake until bubbly.
You can also use leftover Béchamel Sauce to make a classic Mornay Sauce which is little more than adding more cheese. Pour this decadent cheesy sauce over vegetables or fish.
Or, use leftover Béchamel Sauce to make a Croque Madame, a delicious sandwich stuffed ham, cheese, and béchamel sauce, grilled until golden, then topped with a fried egg.
Alfredo sauce is similar to Béchamel in some ways. Both are dairy based white sauces that are rich, creamy, and often used in pasta dishes.
However, Béchamel sauce is made with milk or half & half where Alfredo often includes heavy cream. And, while parmesan Béchamel recipes like this one include some cheese, Alfredo sauce recipes generally include quite a bit more. Alfredo sauce also almost always includes garlic, an ingredient you're unlikely to find in Béchamel sauce.
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #alittleandalot on Instagram.
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/ 57 grams) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into 4 pieces
- 3 tablespoons (23 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3 cups (24 ounces) whole milk or half and half
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon table salt (1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt)
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¾ cup (2.5 ounces) grated parmesan cheese
- ½ cup, packed (.6 oz) chopped fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
- Add the butter to a 3 quart or larger saucepan and set it over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour. Cook the flour and butter, stirring constantly with a wire whisk, for 1-2 minutes.
- Slowly add the milk or half & half gradually, whisking constantly as you pour it into the saucepan. Add the nutmeg, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and bring the sauce to a simmer.
- Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until the béchamel is thickened and does not taste like raw flour, about 10-12 minutes. (The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon; see photos above.)
- Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the grated parmesan, and whisk until the cheese is melted.
- Add the fresh parsley and stir to blend. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like. The sauce is now ready to use.
- Store Béchamel Sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Reheat the sauce in a saucepan set over low heat. Whisk constantly while the sauce heats.
- As a general rule, you'll want 2 - 2 ½ cups for lasagna baked in a 9-inch square baking dish or cast iron skillet and 4 - 5 cups for lasagna baked in a 9x13 rectangle baking dish.
Serving Size:½ cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 251Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 52mgSodium: 830mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 0gSugar: 7gProtein: 9g