Both of these sauces start out as a roux (a combination of equal parts butter and flour). Once the butter is melted and combined evenly with the flour, about three times the total volume of a warm liquid is added in stages while whisked constantly. So for example, if you had 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 a cup of flour (total: 1 cup) you would add 3 cups of either warm milk or warm stock. I add them in thirds. That seems to do the trick.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups of warm stock (if making velouté)
3 cups of warm milk (if making béchamel)
Let's start with how to make a basic roux. Then we'll go over how to make a velouté from there and also a béchamel.
Here we have 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) melting over medium high-heat in a saucepan.
Then we add 1/2 cup of flour and whisk them until thoroughly combined. Once combined, continue to stir just for a minute to cook out the raw flavour of the flour. The roux should be a blonde colour.
Bam! That's your roux. Easy, right? To turn this roux into a velouté, keep reading for the next step.
Set aside, you'll have a pot with 3 cups of warm stock. It doesn't have to be simmering, just warm. The only reason why we keep it warm is to ensure that you don't end up with any lumps in your sauce. In equal installments of three (1 cup each), add the warm stock to the roux and whisk constantly. When fully incorporated, it's going to look very pasty and not appetizing at all. Do not panic! This is what it always looks like at this stage.
Add the second installment of stock and continue whisking. When incorporated it will look much more like a sauce but it will be too thick. Then you can add the remaining stock and continue to whisk. By that point, the sauce is going to appear a little too thin. All you need to do is keep whisking for a couple of minutes and it will thicken up right to the stage where you want it.
To ensure the sauce is at the right consistency, test with a wooden spoon. It should coat the back of it evenly and when you create a channel with your finger it should stay in place. Like this:
Taste for seasoning (and if you're like me, spike it with a little cayenne pepper). That is a basic velouté. It tastes fantastic just on its own but it is also the base for a lot of other French sauces like:
A sauce Allemande is a velouté with some lemon juice, egg yolk and cream stirred in.
A sauce Aurore is a velouté with tomato purée stirred in.
If you used fish stock to make your velouté, you could add lemon juice, white wine and shallots to turn it into a sauce Bercy.
If you used chicken stock, you could add mushrooms with lemon juice and fresh parsley to make sauce Poullette.
These are just a few examples of the hundreds of other varieties you can come up with.
For this demo I used chicken stock and used my velouté as the rich sauce for a flaky, puff pastry chicken pot pie. It looks a little like Freddy Krueger's face in this shot but, believe me, it was awesome.
As I mentioned before, to make a béchamel you would simply use warm milk instead of warm stock. So you start with your blonde roux of equal parts butter and flour. Add 1 third of your warm milk and whisk constantly. It will still form an unsightly paste at that point. Add another third of the warm milk and whisk to combine. Then add the rest of your milk and continue whisking until it thickens to the point where it passes the wooden spoon test. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. I almost always add some fresh ground nutmeg to a béchamel, which is common.
A béchamel is the perfect white sauce for Italian lasagna or Greek moussaka. In fact, right here on the blog we used a béchamel for an Italian dish, stuffed lumaconi. Just like the velouté, a béchamel is the base for a myriad of other sauces. In North America, the most common béchamel derived sauce is the Mornay, which is a béchamel with any kind of cheese(s) melted into it. One of the most popular dishes on this blog, baked mac and cheese, has a Mornay sauce in the recipe.
Other sauces you can make from a béchamel base:
A sauce Soubise is a béchamel with onions sweated in butter.
A sauce Moutarde is a béchamel with mustard seed.
A sauce Crème is a béchamel with cream whisked in.
A sauce Nantua is a béchamel with crayfish or (less traditionally) shrimp.
These two sauces are very important, but as you can see, very simple to do. Some cooking techniques take a few tries to get right but the velouté and the béchamel are pretty straight forward and you can have a lot of fun coming up with different ways to adapt them.