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How to Make a Basic White Sauce 3 Ways (With Photos)

These recipes come from a vintage cookbook on my shelf. I use it all the time because of its tried-and-true simplicity.

Knowing how to make a basic white sauce is a must!

Knowing how to make a basic white sauce is a must!

A Vintage Cookbook Taught Me the Basics

On my shelf sits an old cookbook, The Herald Tribune Home Institute Cookbook, published in 1947. I use it all the time because of its simplicity. This book was written during a time when fast food and modern convenience foods weren't options, a time when cooking three meals a day was a daily task. It was important to have a good knowledge of the basics in order to get the job done.

Knowing how to make a basic white sauce was a must, as it forms the basis of so many different dishes, from creamy soups to mac and cheese. The recipes that I'd like to share in this article are from this book.

No fancy names appear in this cookbook. Like the recipes themselves, the titles are plain and simple: thin white sauce, medium white sauce, and thick white sauce.

White Sauce 3 Ways

Thin White Sauce Ingredients

Use for cream soups, thin cheese sauce, and other sauces.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup milk or rich cream

Medium White Sauce Ingredients

Use for gravies, creamed dishes, and scalloped dishes.

  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup milk or rich cream (substitute stock for all or part of milk for meat gravies)

Thick White Sauce Ingredients

Use for soufflés and croquettes.

  • 4 tablespoon butter
  • 4 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup milk or rich cream

Instructions (Use for All Sauces)

  1. In a pan over low heat, melt the butter and then stir in the flour until smooth. Note: Keep the heat very low so you do not burn the butter.
  2. Add salt and pepper.
  3. Gradually add milk. Increase the heat to medium and stir constantly until the mixture boils and thickens. (If you add too much milk at once you may get lumps; a wire whisk will take care of that.) Cook about 3 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.
  4. The sauce is now ready. Set aside until you are ready to use. Cover with a lid to keep a skin from forming on the surface (if one forms, just stir well).

White Sauce Modifications

White sauces are endlessly versatile. Not only do they form the basis of many different dishes, they can also be modified to reflect your individual taste and creativity. Here are a few modifications that I enjoy making:

  • Parsley Sauce: Add 2 to 4 tablespoons of parsley.
  • Egg Sauce: Add 2 diced, hard-cooked eggs.
  • Horseradish Sauce: Add 1/4 cup grated and drained horseradish, and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard, if desired.
  • Cheese Sauce: Add 1/2 to 1 cup grated cheese of your choice.

Comments

Faye Mitchell (author) from Columbus, Ohio on February 10, 2013:

Thank you so much Silva Hayes.

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on February 10, 2013:

Voted Up and useful. Your pictures and instructions are terrific.

Faye Mitchell (author) from Columbus, Ohio on January 29, 2010:

Thank you so much Gladys Wentzel for your comments. More is on the way in food preparation.

G ladys Wentzel on January 29, 2010:

thank you for showing me how to make a simple white sauce i have never had any luck be for. give us soom more simple ones G W

Faye Mitchell (author) from Columbus, Ohio on January 29, 2010:

Thank you so much Lisadpreston for your comments. I am sure your auntie is pleased that you got so much use from the joy of cooking. Old cook books are great because they rely on real ingredients -- not combining a box of this and a can of that,frozen mixed whatever and pre-made sauces.

lisadpreston from Columbus, Ohio on January 28, 2010:

Great hub. When it comes to cooking I love to keep it simple. I have cookbooks that have wonderful looking pictures of the food but when i get to the ingredients and the terms of what to do with them, it gets so complicated that I say forget it. I love the fact that you have a cookbook from 1947, before fast food mania. I got a couple of cookbooks from the ohio historical center. One was Rebecca Boones recipes and another was just an old southern one dated back to God knows when. I like them cause they are simple. I remember for a wedding present, my dear, sweet auntie got me a wonderful cookbook called the joy of cooking. It was filled with simplicity as well. I wore it out and cherished it. Keep up the good work.