One of my suitemates expressed a desire at one point for pasta with white sauce, because it was her favorite and she hadn’t found anywhere in Russia that had it. We went to the Russian Museum the next day and found a nice Italian place a couple blocks away, but I still offered to make pasta with white sauce, which she found really impressive. And that’s the cool thing about white sauce – a lot of people find it pretty impressive, and it doesn’t have to be hard to make, and making it from scratch lets you make way lower-sodium versions than jarred sauces.
- butter (salted or unsalted) or cooking oil
- salt and pepper
- milk or cream
- lemon juice
I also included ground chicken, which I cooked first and then set aside to add at the last minute, but it’s delicious even without. We had this over pasta, but it’s also amazing over roasted asparagus.
At home I prefer using butter, because butter is delicious, but we had olive oil in our kitchen in Russia, and it was less than a week before we left, so I used olive oil. You want equal proportions of fat and flour, because you’re gonna make a roux (pronounced ‘ru’). Melt the butter or start heating the oil on low. With butter, you can kind of let it go for a while until it starts to brown. With oil, just let it get hot. Add the flour! Just dump it in there. Remember, you’re adding equal proportions, so tablespoon for tablespoon or cup for cup. Stir it all together – it’s gonna be pretty thick. Add a little salt and pepper (and garlic powder, if you want) at this point.
You can let that cook for a little bit – still on low – or just stir it until it’s combined and there’s no flour lumps or oil sitting around. Then very slowly add liquid, stirring constantly. It’s gonna want to get lumpy. If stirring constantly doesn’t work so well for you because of coordination or whatever, add a little bit and then stir it until smooth, then add a bit more and repeat.
How much liquid? Well, the more roux you have in comparison to liquid, the thicker the sauce is gonna be. So a lot of it’s gonna be preference. If it’s your first time trying to make one, I’d start with a cup of dairy to a tablespoon each of oil and flour. You’ll pick up a feel for what you like as you make it a few more times.
Cream is the traditional liquid for cream sauces – shocker, right? Not like it’s in the name. But that ends up rich as hell. It’s delicious, and indulgent, but using 2% milk gives a sufficiently creamy taste and does not make my gallbladder-less roommate want to die. It’s still not actually low-fat, because you’re starting with butter, but it’s sort of a step in that direction.
When you’ve added enough milk that it’s definitely sauce-like, throw in something like half a jar of capers along with some of the caper juice. Mix that all together, then add lemon juice to taste. Start off with a bunch, then taste it so you can decide whether it needs more milk or lemon juice or is just fine.
Congrats, you now have sauce. Let it come to a simmer as you either prep or finish up whatever you’re gonna have it on. Turn it off and remove from heat like five minutes before you serve it so it gets to thicken, then serve that night.