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Roux, Béchamel, and Mornay: A Guide to Basic French Sauces

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 26, 2020 • 2 min read

It’s easy to get lost when it comes to the creamy sauces of French cuisine. Learn the difference between a classic roux, béchamel, and mornay.



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What Is Roux?

Roux is a combination of flour and fat that is cooked and used as a base to thicken and flavor sauces. The method for making roux uses one part oil or fat to one part flour, whisked constantly over heat until it reaches an optimal shade, ranging from white to dark brown. The finished base can be used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups. Roux is used in three of the five mother sauces of classical French cooking: sauce Espagnole, béchamel sauce, and velouté sauce.

The 4 Types of Roux

The four types of roux are each the result of a different cook time; lighter roux is cooked for a short time, while dark brown roux is cooked the longest.

  1. White roux has a neutral flavor and is primarily used to thicken sauces, soups, and chowders.
  2. Blond roux has a nuttier flavor than white roux and is useful for sauces and soups.
  3. Brown roux has a nutty flavor, with less thickening power than lighter roux. It is ideal for brown sauces such as the mother sauce Espagnole.
  4. Dark brown roux is the most flavorful roux but the least useful as a thickening agent. Dark brown roux is common in many Creole and Cajun dishes like gumbo and jambalaya.
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What Is Béchamel Sauce?

Sauce béchamel, as it’s known in French, is a versatile white sauce and the base of a variety of comfort food dishes. As one of five mother sauces in French cuisine, it’s easy to master, with only a few ingredients—butter, whole milk, flour, eggs, and salt. Béchamel starts with a classic French white roux: a few tablespoons flour and a few tablespoons butter—cooked together in a heavy saucepan to form a thick paste before the addition of milk. Milk is slowly whisked into the mixture and cooked until it takes on a creamy consistency. (Try Chef Wolfgang Puck's béchamel sauce recipe.)

What Is Mornay Sauce?

A mornay sauce is a cheese sauce made in the same manner as a classic béchamel, but with the addition of grated cheese. With the béchamel sauce over low heat, stir in gruyère cheese, Emmental, and white cheddar cheese—any melting cheese works, but those three are the classics. Mornay is an essential component of macaroni and cheese (try Wolfgang Puck's recipe), but for a gluten-free twist, add it to a cauliflower casserole.


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