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Bechamel, Because Delicious Is Simple is delicious

November 8, 2016 | Frank Bonanno


(*Right at the outset, I’d like to apologize to my wife, my sons, the estate of Norman Rockwell, any photographers, expert illustrators, amateur illustrators, and anyone else I may have offended in the Paint-botched image above, which I love regardless of my poor computer skills* fb)

At the beginning of the month, I came home to something from a Norman Rockwell painting. Jacqueline, still in heels from work, apron, pearls, the works–cooking pot pie. This was a vision of Rockwell firmly rooted in this century, though, with our sons nearby, plugged in and studying, Twenty One Pilots blasting, and a box of wine on the counter (yes, boxed, it was a Monday). Jacqueline was working on a chicken pot pie recipe  she picked up from the New York Times by Julia Moskin.  How great is that? I mean, chicken pot pie? Temperatures are finally dipping, and to me pot pie speaks of comfort on every level. Maybe the deliciousness comes from that first taste of childhood independence: being allowed to heat an oven, sticking a round iceberg inside and setting a timer, peeling foil back to unevenly cooked crust and dangerously bubbly peas, and I could eat the whole meal right out of the pan. Alone. In front of the tv!

Here now was pot pie in with the home of my adulthood, full of warmth and music and aroma, and thanks to the Times. The sauce in Moskin’s iteration was deeply flavorful, but in the article she disparages those seventies cream sauces, and in that I disagree. Yes, that blistering canned pea and white sauce falls well short by today’s standards, but a nicely executed bechamel–so easy, so flavorful–is a classic. They’re called mother sauces for good reason. They’re timeless. Simple. They work with modern cuisine in the same ways they worked for our grandparents and their grandparents–because you can spin them a multitude of ways, flavor them to lean toward your own palate, seize a basic set of ingredients and alter it just so–enhance it, own it–to impart depths of flavor on less expensive cuts of meat and fish, ordinary pasta, or simple vegetables just beyond their prime.

Even the NYT recipe relied on a variation of one of the mother sauces, a velouté, and I really did love that dish and everything about it, but Jacqueline? She felt for the amount of work that went into dinner it should have been spectacular. For us, in our own home anyway, at this point in our lives and careers, and with our children, spectacular often means simple.

So I’m going to share a simple recipe for pot pie, and it all starts with the béchamel which you will easily master, and can later use for, oh, I don’t know–macaroni and cheese (at the bottom of this page), Mornay (which makes a delicious creamed spinach–also at the bottom of this page), Thanksgiving gravy, grilled Halibut, any creamy soup base . . .

First, the Béchamel:


  • ½ onion, diced
  • Stick butter (½ cup)
  • Cup flour
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 qt whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon white pepper


Salt is essential here, because milk is a salt eater and blandifier.

A lot of online require the milk to be warmed. That’s a fallacy. If you start with cool milk, as it warms it has time to absorb the flour and take on the flavors of the onion and thyme


  1. Melt the butter over medium heat
  2. Add onions and thyme to melted butter; cook roughly four minutes, until the onions become translucent
  3. Stir in the flour with rubber spat; cook two minutes stirring constantly (so as not to burn the bottom of the pan), or just until flour is incorporated. Do not let it brown.
  4. Add the cold milk.
  5. Stir constantly for the next four minutes; mixture will start to thicken slightly
  6. Place pot in makeshift double boiler, continue cooking on very low heat another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt & white pepper, nutmeg
  7. When smooth, creamy and thickened, strain through a fine mesh sieve. Use immediately, or wrap tightly with a plastic wrap that actually touches the sauce—to prevent a skin from forming. Will last up to 1 week refrigerated

You can find a good pie crust here.

Pot Pie Filling: This is going to be way too easy, it is absolutely cheating, and I feel like Sandra Lee even taking this approach, but it really is what I’d do if I were making pot pie at home.


  1. Buy one of those roasted chickens and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables at the grocery store.
  2. Line a 9″ pie pan with half your crust, pull all meat from that chicken and put it on top of the crust. Toss on the frozen vegetables. Pour the béchamel over the top. I’m not providing quantities here, or specific vegetables, because you know what and how much you like better than I do–just make yourself a substantive, creamy filled up crust.
  3. Top it with the other half of the pie crust dough, slit with steaming vents, and bake per the crust instructions.
  4. Remove, serve, enjoy!


Béchamel is the first part of a Mornay recipe, which is how creamed spinach is made, so:


  1. Stir 2 cups of Swiss cheese into the béchamel and continue stirring over a low flame until the sauce is nicely melted.

Creamed Spinach

  1. Add two pounds of wilted spinach to your Mornay sauce

Mac & Cheese


  • 2 cups sharp cheddar
  • 2 cups béchamel
  • ½ lb cooked elbow noodles


  1. Stir the sharp cheddar into the warm béchamel until it’s melted.
  2. Add ½ lb cooked elbow noodles. Serve or eat right out of the pot.