How to Make a White Sauce

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This basic white sauce is the building block of great recipes like homemade mac and cheese or lasagna. It comes together quickly and easily on the stove.

Milk poured into saucepan to make white sauce

I first learned to cook out of my mom’s yellow Pillsbury cookbook. It was written in 1971, back in the days when home economics was still taught in schools and when branded cookbooks listed real ingredients like 1 cup flour instead 1 6-ounce package Mary Mary’s baking mix.

Nowadays many cookbooks offer you recipes that are simply open this can, shake in this mix, stir and done. While the convenience is nice, the ingredients not so much.

I am the first to say that I love the Cheesy Potatoes that my Gramma and grandmas everywhere made with canned cream soup. “Church potatoes” were always one of my favorite things at family reunions.

But, I’ve found how to make it myself — from scratch — without all the preservatives and junk. The secret is in the sauce — the white sauce.

lasagna prepped with white sauce

What is white sauce made of? 

This recipe is simple really and made of 3 basic ingredients – 

  • butter
  • flour
  • milk (or broth)

Then you want to season it with salt and pepper. To make a white sauce is to conquer a really simple culinary technique that has all kinds of potential. You can flavor it any way you like (parmesan, spices, herbs, cheese, sauteed vegetables, chicken broth for some of the milk) to recreate any creamy sauce you desire.

How to make white sauce

The process is super simple.

  1. Melt butter in a pan.
  2. Add flour and whisk until bubbly and fragrant.
  3. Whisk in milk or milk/broth until smooth and creamy.
  4. Simmer until your desired thickness. Yum!

One batch of this sauce, seasoned with salt and pepper and any of the options mentioned above can replace a can of creamed soup in your recipes.

white sauce in a pan with a whisk

What do you eat with white sauce?

That’s really all that canned cream soup is — a white sauce enhanced with chicken broth, chopped celery, sautéed mushrooms, or whatever other flavor you want to “cream”. I use a basic white sauce in a number of recipes:

I use this basic recipe as the base to my macaroni and cheese recipes, as a base for pizza or lasagna, as the gravy for pot pie, or the luscious Bechamel layer in a Croque Monsieur. Mmmmmm. Good stuff!

(Bechamel is the French name for our white sauce)

white sauce being whisked in a pan

Basic White Sauce
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
15 mins
 
This basic white sauce is the building block of great recipes like homemade mac and cheese or lasagna. It comes together quickly and easily on the stove.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: white sauce
Servings: 2 cups
Calories: 409 kcal
Author: Jessica Fisher
Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. In a medium sauce pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and stir until well mixed, hot, and bubbly, about 2 minutes.
  2. Gradually whisk in the milk, stirring until smooth.
  3. Simmer until thickened, about 7 minutes, stirring.
Nutrition Facts
Basic White Sauce
Amount Per Serving
Calories 409 Calories from Fat 279
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 31g 48%
Saturated Fat 19g 95%
Cholesterol 85mg 28%
Sodium 308mg 13%
Potassium 322mg 9%
Total Carbohydrates 24g 8%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 12g
Protein 10g 20%
Vitamin A 22.1%
Calcium 28.3%
Iron 4%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

 

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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Comments

  1. Lauren says

    If you want to make it chicken flavor, do you just add more flour since the chicken broth will thin it out? FYI: I don’t kike to use chicken bouillon–it has too many questionable ingredients.

    • No, I’d sub chicken broth for half the milk. And yes, I agree. 🙂

      • Lauren says

        Thanks Jessica! I have been reading (and enjoying) your blog for a couple of years now–lurking actually. This was the first time I commented. Thanks!

  2. Cheri A says

    And for those that need to stay away from gluten, cornstarch or your favorite gluten-free blend works well too. I often make this with chicken broth only also.

  3. Allie Z says

    I’ll admit, I haven’t had flour in my kitchen in at least 2 years. Sad! But our work around for GF white sauce comes from a sneaky white sweet potato. It seriously works!

    I use the microplaner to get a fine grind. I let the butter and 1/2 potato melt together for several minutes, whisk in 1/2 the liquid and simmer for 5 minutes or until thick. Then I thin out the sauce and viola! GF white sauce. I usually season with Organic chicken bullion, onion powder, and mustard powder. YUM!!

    • Rhonda says

      Thanks Allie. My daughter is celiac. I am excited to try this out!!

  4. Ashley says

    I’m new to your website. I found it when searching for how to use up a gallon of milk. Can you freeze this? I have a gallon of milk that expired yesterday and I don’t want to waste it.

    • Hi Ashley! Welcome! First, expiration dates are not “the law”. Like for reals, the only product that is bound to give a hard and fast expiration date is for baby formula. You can read more about that here on the USDA’s website. Basically, it’s a guideline. If your milk doesn’t smell bad, you’re good to continue using it as you regularly would.

      That said, the producer is giving you a “guesstimate” as to when it will taste best. You can absolutely make the white sauce or any of my “Cream of Soups” and freeze those. I recommend packaging them in 2-cup portions so that you can use them like you would a can of creamed soup. The texture looks a little clumpy upon thawing, but whisking it as you warm it should eliminate that. If using it in a casserole it won’t even matter.

      For freezing, be sure to chill the containers in the fridge before putting them in the freezer. That will prevent ice crystals and freezer burn from forming. Hope that helps!

  5. Alice E says

    Just a note to say that you can omit the butter if fat is a problem, like it is for me. Just whisk/stir the flour into part of the milk until there are not lumps and then cook it ’til done. It doesn’t taste quite as rich, but it does work. You can also use the slurry method to thicken soups, etc. That is what this is, a slurry of the liquid and flour or other thickener. The secret, I think is to not use much liquid. You want something about like pancake batter, I think for the easiest mixing of the slurry without lumps.

    Also, you can vary the flour to liquid ratio to control the thickness of the sauce.

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