Cheese sauce, otherwise known as ‘sauce Mornay’, is a deliciously creamy sauce that forms the basis of many classic dishes, such as cauliflower cheese or macaroni cheese.
It’s made by adding cheese and sometimes egg yolks and cream to a white sauce or béchamel (one of the five French mother sauces). It might seem complicated to make at first, but if you follow a few simple steps and stick to some basic rules, it’s easy to make the perfect velvety cheese sauce.
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Firstly, it’s important to use good quality, fresh ingredients. For the cheese, a medium-strength Cheddar, Gruyère or a similar hard yellow cheese are all good options. You can also mix cheeses.
Try adding a little Parmesan for a bit more saltiness, or some blue cheese for an added layer of tanginess.
The secret ingredient
Infusing the milk will give your sauce a lot of extra flavour, and leave everyone wondering what your secret ingredient is.
If you’re really short of time, you can skip this stage but, trust us, it’s worth the extra effort. To infuse the milk, you’ll need to heat it with some aromatics. Aromatics are vegetables, herbs and spices used to add an extra depth of flavour to dishes. Place a mixture of carrot and onion offcuts, bay leaves, whole peppercorns, parsley and thyme in a pot with the milk.
Heat the milk until it’s just about to boil – you’ll see bubbles forming around the edge of the pot. Remove it from the heat and allow it to infuse for about 15 minutes. Strain the milk into a clean jug and discard the aromatics.
Be careful not to accidentally strain the milk into the sink and be left with the aromatics. This is surprisingly easy to do!
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A creamy cheese sauce with no lumps
The best way to make a cheese sauce with a good silky consistency is by using the classic French method of starting with a ‘roux’. A roux is a mixture of equal quantities of flour and butter, melted and cooked for about 2 minutes. It essentially binds and thickens the sauce.
There’s nothing worse than a lumpy cheese sauce with, dare we say it, a slightly burnt flavour. To avoid these common mishaps, follow the next steps carefully. Remove the cooked roux from the heat, then gradually whisk in the infused milk.
Return the sauce to the heat, whisking all the time until it comes to a boil. It will start to thicken at the bottom of the pot first, which can stick and burn if you’re not careful. Not only does this risk ruining the flavour, it can also cause lumps.
Once the sauce thickens and comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about five to ten minutes, stirring frequently. This stage is vital. You need to let the sauce thicken and cook out the taste of the flour before adding the cheese. Boiling the sauce may make it split, giving it a grainy consistency.
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Lastly, remove the sauce from the heat and stir through the cheese. The flavour of the cheese will take a couple of minutes to develop, so wait a moment before adding any extra cheese.
In addition, make sure to season the sauce after you’ve added the cheese so that the sauce doesn’t become too salty. A final little secret for that extra touch of spice is a teaspoon of hot English mustard and a pinch of nutmeg.
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