Let’s go for the easy one. You will need:
- 500mL milk
- 25g butter
- 25g flour
- a quarter of a nutmeg
- a bay leaf
Bring the milk almost to the boil in a saucepan, and then turn off the heat, and add the nutmeg and bay leaf. Allow to cool: doesn’t matter if it’s cold, but it won’t work if it’s hot by the time you add it to the roux.
On the business of nutmeg, I would avoid the pre-ground stuff, and buy whole nutmegs instead. You can then grate them on the spot, using the end of the cheese grater you’d normally use for Parmesan. I’d use between a quarter and half a nutmeg for this recipe.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and gradually stir in the flour to make a roux. The roux needs to be cooked gently for about two minutes, stirring gently but constantly. A flat ended wooden spoon is helpful at this point.
Don’t be tempted to cook the roux for more than that, as the flour will release too much starch, and your sauce will resemble concrete. Mind you, an under-cooked roux will cause the sauce to taste floury and horrid. If you see any brown spots appearing, then turn the heat down, and try to pick them out. Black spots really mean you need to start again.
You then need to add the milk to the roux. Start by adding about 50mL and stir like crazy. The contents of the pan will go horrid, but after a bit of stirring, the milk will be absorbed, and the consistency should smooth out. Add more milk, maybe 100mL this time, and again, blend in. Once you’ve gotten as far as having added half the milk, you can add the rest in one go, but the moral of this story is to start out small.
Now, you should have a saucepan of liquid that is – oh dear! – no thicker than ordinary milk, but hopefully the lumps will have been all eliminated in the previous stage. Now turn up the heat and stir: again gently but constantly, scraping the spoon across the bottom to stop anything from catching . It will start to thicken as it comes to the boil. Turn the heat off and keep stirring for about a minute, and then you’re done. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and you end up with something resembling porridge. If you’re putting this into lasagne, nobody will notice.
You could also put a small to medium peeled onion in the hot milk, and even stick a few whole cloves into the onion. Obviously that’s just there to flavour everything, and doesn’t go into the finished sauce!