How a Butter Sauce Makes Everything Better

I have been sharing some recipes and cooking tips with a coworker who is just beginning his culinary journey. He gives me bento box recipes, while I try to tell him that making ramen at home is not so hard (and I am not talking about the packets that cost 10 cents!). One of his big questions recently has been about béchamel sauce. Despite my best efforts, I haven’t convinced him to try making it.

The magic about béchamel, and the other mother sauces, is that once you master the basic version, you can make any sauce. Béchamel and veloutes, both starters to the white sauces, both begin with a roux and then you add either a cream/milk or a white stock. And from there you can keep dividing, adding cheeses or curry or tomato puree. The options are seemingly endless. Each variation provides a new one to enhance a dish, even one as simple as cooked asparagus.

With this in mind, I found myself contemplating what to make for dinner. One of the benefits to having an academic for a partner is that they often have time off. Thankfully this means that I can ask Justin to pick up groceries for me, so that I can get home a few minutes earlier. When I walked in the door last week, everything was set out on the counter for me: risotto, tempeh bacon, asparagus, and more Earth Balance.

The beauty of this meal is that the risotto is baked. Once you have it set up, you can simply get to work on the asparagus and sauce without having to tend to a third pot. I chopped the tempeh bacon up and sauteed it briefly in a small pan. When it came time to serve dinner, I mixed it in with the risotto, and then served the asparagus with cream sauce over the risotto.

Please note, that I did not make mine with 2lbs of asparagus, so I had extra sauce. If you’d like to halve the recipe, please do so. Otherwise you can successfully reheat the sauce on the stovetop the next day. I also do not find it necessary to peel the asparagus as Julia dictates. Feel free to peel the asparagus if you like; I find it easier to simply cut off the tougher butts off the asparagus. If your asparagus is particularly thick and you fear that it will be tough or will cook unevenly, go ahead and peel it.

Asparagus butts

Asparagus butts ready to be chopped

Asparagus with Cream Sauce

Line your asparagus up on a cutting board, with the tips all at one end. Cut the butts of the asparagus so that they are the same length. Tie the asparagus in bundles about 3.5in in diameter. Use one string near the tip and one near the butt. Keep two or three spears separate so that you can test their tenderness while cooking.

Lay the bundles in a large pot of boiling salted water (the asparagus must be able to lay horizontally). Bring the water back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow to cook, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes.

The asparagus is done when a knife pierces the butt-end easily. The spears should bend a little, but not be droopy. When the asparagus is done, lift the bundles out of the water, allow to drain, and set aside.

Begin by preparing your béchamel. The basic portions are:

  • 3Tb flour
  • 2.5Tb Earth Balance
  • 1.5C non-dairy milk, heated to a boil

Melt the butter in a pan. Blend in the flour, slowly, stirring until the butter and flour froth together without coloring. Remove the roux from heat. Pour in all of the hot liquid into the sauce pan and quickly start blending with a wire whisk. Set the pan back over heat and stir until it comes to a boil. After 1 minute, remove from heat.

Cream Enrichment

  • 1/2C soy creamer
  • Salt & white pepper
  • Lemon juice
  • Optional: 1 to 2Tb softened Earth Balance

Bring the roux to a simmer. Beat in the creamer slowly, allowing the sauce to simmer. Allow it to cook until you have the consistency you want – it should be allowed to thicken a little. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and drops of lemon juice.

Take the sauce off the heat and beat in the softened butter before serving.

Note: If you do not have any soy creamer on hand, simply add 1/2Tb of Earth Balance to the sauce before you stir in your favorite non-dairy milk. I used Almond Milk and did not find it to give the sauce a nutty flavor.

Set your asparagus on a dish, and pour the hot sauce over to serve.

Asparagus with Cream Sauce & Tempeh Bacon Risotto

Asparagus with Cream Sauce & Tempeh Bacon Risotto

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About Ania K

Writing, cooking, and eating in Brooklyn.
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