Turns Out Cold Milk Is The Secret To A Lump-Free Béchamel Sauce

Have you ever made béchamel sauce at home and ended up disappointed because there were hard, chewy lumps you couldn't break apart in the saucepan? Well, it turns out there's a secret to achieving lump-free sauce. Of course, it's important to know the best heat to cook milk at when making béchamel sauce and to understand that patience is the key to perfectly smooth béchamel, but the secret we're talking about has to do with the temperature of the milk itself.

To make béchamel sauce, you often start by cooking a velvety roux (a thick flour, milk, and butter mixture that resembles glue paste) in a saucepan. Then, to ensure you don't overcook the roux with hot milk, which causes the hard gelatinized lumps, dump ice cold milk — not very hot milk – all at once into the saucepan. Then, use a whisk to continuously stir the roux and milk to prevent lumps from forming. The result will be a smooth béchamel sauce with a delightfully even consistency. Both Chef John of Food Wishes and J. Kenji López-Alt vet this ice-cold milk dumped into hot roux trick.

Whisking béchamel sauce is the key to smoothness

While the big boys of the food world recommend dumping ice-cold milk all at once into the hot roux to make a smooth béchamel sauce, this doesn't mean that the traditional method of adding a few spoonfuls of milk at a time to the roux is the wrong way. After all, suddenly dumping a large amount of milk into a saucepan can lead to splatters and a messy stovetop. 

So, instead of adding all the cold milk at once, you can add spoonfuls into the saucepan while continuously whisking the mixture, which is also key to creating a smooth sauce. Also, when the milk is just a little warm, and not hot, it won't have enough heat to cook and gelatinize the roux, causing those unwanted hard lumps to develop.

After you make a smooth, lump-free béchamel sauce, it's time to give your béchamel a flavor boost with this extra step: Add freshly grated nutmeg to give the sauce complexity. Browning the butter first when making the roux will also add richness and toasty warmth. Finally, be sure to check out this list of 12 tips you need when making béchamel sauce to learn more tricks and secrets to making your next batch the best ever.