What makes a great cheese sauce?
At its essence cheese sauce has the simplest and most common of ingredients. Practically every kitchen has the 6 key ingredients to get a great sauce, cheese, butter, flour, milk or cream, salt and pepper. But what makes the sauce the sauce great? What makes it the creamy and delicious accoutrement to steamed Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts or Cauliflower. What keeps it from clumping and separating?
I am pretty sure every cook has attempted a cheese sauce that resulted in doom. Either a clumpy mess where the cheese never melded with the milk or a greasy bowl of something that you wish turned out differently. So let’s take a look at two simple rules I always follow when making cheese sauce.
- Great food required GREAT PATIENCE – as I mentioned in my recent post where I showed you how to cook the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich, cheese is like a fine wine or great beer and it needs to be treated that way. A great cheese sauce needs time to meld it needs time to find its taste so don’t rush it. To slow things down in the kitchen turn the heat down. I usually cook my cheese sauce on the lower side of medium, a 4 on a 10 scale stovetop.
- Great cheese sauce requires GREAT CHEESE – Different cheeses not only have different flavors they have different characteristics especially when under the duress of heat. A cheeses chemical compound changes drastically when heated. For more information on this check out the first chapter in the book the kitchen as a laboratory. It will explain why cheddars produce more oils and give great advise on what chesses to use together.
Finally let me talk about the 3 ingredients that I add to almost all of my cheese sauces. First let’s talk Garlic. Garlic is one of my favorite herbs and soon I will have a post about the different types of Garlic and different ways to prepare it. For cheese sauce if I have planned it out I would have 3 cloves of roasted garlic. The purpose of this is because when you roast garlic it becomes a paste which suites a sauce very well. If you don’t have the time for roasting (adds about an hour to the recipe) the ensure the garlic is finely diced. The second ingredient is bacon, yes I do believe that bacon can make everything better. I don’t have a particular brand that I use but I do try to pick a thick cut that has been hickory smoked if possible. When preparing the bacon for the sauce ensure that you cook it so it is extra crispy. The third ingredient is the kick but you have to be careful as not to add too much. The goal of the Chipotle is not to add heat but to add smoke so just a pinch should be enough. Keep in mind that Chipotle flavor builds over time. So when in doubt refer to rule number one.
- 2 1/4 cups grated cheese. I prefer to use three different cheeses, usually a Cheddar, a Swiss or Gruyere and a Gouda
- 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 2 cups whole milk or heavy cream.
- 3 strips thick cut hickory smoked bacon/ Yes bacon does make everything better
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- Pinch of Chipotle (Preferably Penzy’s)
- Kosher Salt to taste
- Fresh Ground Black pepper to taste
- Cook Bacon to extra crispy drain well and pat dry. After bacon cools chop to small pieces.
- Grate your cheeses. Use the small side of the grater and round strokes to get longer strands.
- Preheat a medium saucepan over medium to low heat – 6 on a scale of 1 – 10.
- Add butter and once both tablespoons are melted add Garlic. Cook for 45 seconds to a minute and reduce heat to 4.
- Once heat is reduced, add flour while stirring vigorously.
- Pour in milk slowly while continuing to stir vigorously This is a critical step and the step that will determine if the sauce will clump.
- Heat milk to just below boiling, about 4 minutes while stirring the entire time. Ensure all of the butter, garlic, flour mixture is dissolved completely.
- Add cheese slowly while continuing to stir.
- Once all cheese is added and melted add in salt, pepper and chipotle. Continue to cook for about 5 – 10 more minutes.
It is very important to continue to stir throughout the entire process of creating a cheese sauce masterpiece. Once ready enjoy over any of your favorite vegetables. If you are looking to make a fondue just add an extra tablespoon of flour in step 5. This will make the sauce a bit thicker. Add your favorite sausages and bread for a great appetizer.
Lastly, enjoy, Have fun and experiment and above all else if you have kids include them in the excitement and learning that is to be had in the kitchen. Until next time.