This basic white sauce is the building block of great recipes like homemade mac and cheese or lasagna. This homemade sauce recipe comes together quickly and easily on the stove.
Have you ever used a vintage cookbook? If you go back 50 years, to the days when home economics was still taught in schools and when even branded cookbooks listed real ingredients like 1 cup flour instead of one 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.
After years of buying canned cream soups to make Cheesy Potatoes, I realized that those cans were just a basic white sauce, something so simple and delicious that you can make in minutes—without all the preservatives and junk.
The secret to great tasting casseroles and other dishes? The secret is in the sauce— the white sauce.
Are alfredo and white sauce the same thing?
Alfredo is a white-colored sauce, but it differs drastically from a white sauce.
While Alfredo sauce is typically made with butter, garlic, parmesan, and cream, a white sauce is more like a white gravy—made from a thickened roux of butter and flour, with milk mixed in.
What is white sauce made of?
This recipe is simple really and made of 3 basic ingredients:
- milk (or broth)
Then you want to season it with salt and pepper. To make this 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 do you make white sauce from scratch?
The process is super simple.
- Melt butter in a pan.
- Add flour and whisk until bubbly and fragrant.
- Whisk in milk or milk/broth until smooth and creamy.
- Simmer until your desired thickness. Yum!
One batch of this sauce, seasoned with salt and pepper and any of the variations listed below can replace a can of creamed soup in your recipes.
What do you eat with homemade white sauce?
White sauce is delicious as a simple sauce for cooked meats, fish, and noodles, but it’s also a great component for other recipes.
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”.
It can be the gravy in Chicken Pot Pie or a replacement for the ricotta layer in Lasagna. Stir in a few handfuls of shredded cheeses and you’ve got a delicious sauce for Alfredo Mac and Cheese or Stovetop Mac and Cheese.
What can I add to white sauce for flavor?
You can add a variety of delicious ingredients to add a boost of flavor to your white sauce. Here are a few white sauce variations:
- Fresh herbs, like parsley or thyme
- Grated cheese, like parmesan, asiago, or cheddar
- White wine or sherry for some of the milk
- Chicken or vegetable broth for some of the milk
- Sauteed mushrooms or celery
- Caramelized onions
Can I make this gluten free?
You absolutely can. Just substitute your favorite gluten free flour for this regular all-purpose flour in the recipe.
Can I make this vegan?
Yes. Just swap out the butter and milk for your favorite vegan variety and you’re all set!
Can you freeze white sauce?
Making a large batch of white sauce and freezing it in 2 cup portions is a great way to buy yourself some time in the future.
To freeze white sauce, place it in a freezer-safe container. Chill completely in the refrigerator before storing in the freezer, for up to 2 months.
To thaw white sauce, remove the dish from the freezer and place in the fridge overnight. Reheat in a saucepan, whisking to recombine.
Basic White Sauce
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 2 cup milk
- black pepper
- 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.
- Gradually whisk in the milk, stirring until smooth.
- Simmer until thickened, about 7 minutes, stirring.
This post was originally published on March 31, 2015. It has been updated for content and clarity.