White sauce is the foundation of most milk-based sauces, including cheese sauce, peppercorn sauce, bechamel sauce, parsley sauce and soups such as clam chowder (the white one).
I know this because, when I was 11 and learning Home Economics (now called the much edgier “food technology”) at school, I spent most of my time copying pages and pages out of textbooks while my classmates were busy cooking.
At my school, the teacher would buy the ingredients for us and we just had to bring in the money (usually about 80p-£1), or we could bring in the ingredients if we preferred. My mum refused to give me the money for the ingredients OR to buy the actual ingredients, which often left me not able to participate in home economics. The teacher, thinking I was just lazy, made me copy out of textbooks as a “punishment”.
I think I learned more from this than my classmates did. In my experience of attending 13 schools and 3 colleges, home economics teachers are singularly oblivious to the social issues that prevent children from learning. They all seem to be jolly-middle-class women who think everyone has “tagliatelle” at home.
I had been cooking for the whole family since the age of 9, but because I had never eaten a fairy cake, let alone made one, I was seen as “bad at cooking”, a label I internalized and carried with me into adulthood until I finally realized, at 27, I wasn’t bad at cooking, I just didn’t know how to cook the standard middle-class British dishes of the 1970s (which people still seem to judge us on today).
That’s fine, because people like that home economics teacher who think there’s one true way to cook “properly” are usually the first people to get upset about catering for dairy free guests, on the basis that they only know how to follow a bunch of recipes they learned at school or from Delia Smith (sorry, Delia, but you have some unimaginative readers).
So I took great pleasure in subverting white sauce for the vegan agenda and I hope you enjoy the fabulous results of using this sauce as a base for all your dairy-free milky sauce dishes that Western cuisine seems so obsessed with.
This dairy-free white sauce is very customizable, because it’s the base for so many other sauces. Leave it as-is for béchamel sauce (for lasagne/lasagna), or add things to make cheese, parsley, peppercorn sauces etc. It only requires three ingredients to make the basic sauce.
25g Dairy-free butter
250ml Soy milk (other milks such as almond also work)
This will make enough sauce to cover two servings of cauliflower cheese. As you can see, the measurements are a ratio: For every gram of butter you need one gram of flour, and 10ml of dairy-free milk (add a bit more milk for a thinner sauce). This makes a very easy-to-scale recipe and I often measure my ingredients by eye, adding one part flour to one part butter, then I add the milk slowly from a big carton until I hit the right consistency.
Put the vegan butter in a saucepan and put it onto a medium heat. Melt the butter.
As the butter turns into a puddle but before it starts to bubble, add the flour gradually, stirring constantly. You are currently making something called a roux, which is the base of most thickened dishes.
Keep stirring (it might start to feel quite dry) until the roux turns crumbly and very slightly golden yellow (don’t let it burn). The quality of the roux will determine the quality of the finished sauce. If the roux turns brown, throw it away and start again.
Gradually add the non-dairy milk, a dash at a time (about a tablespoon’s worth, or a shot, if that’s easier to eyeball), stirring continuously. Only add more when the milk starts to thicken. I usually take the pan off the heat for this part because it’s easy to burn the milk. If you add the milk too quickly, you will get a LOT of lumps (some lumps are inevitable). Squash the lumps out with your fork.
Keep stirring the mixture until it’s a nice, thick, saucy consistency.
Now you’re done! It’s time to either serve it, if you’re making this as a béchamel sauce, or to add the other ingredients such as dairy-free cheese, if you’re making cheese sauce, or peppercorns, if you’re making pepper sauce.
Has your sauce gone lumpy? Fix it!
The main way this sauce can go wrong is if you end up with lots of lumps in a fairly watery sauce. There are two ways you can fix this:
Either use a fine-meshed sieve (if you have one; the sort with holes small enough to drain rice without any grains falling through) or a hand blender.
Lump Removal Method 1: With the sieve, get the bowl ready, put the sieve over it (bowl must be wider than sieve, unless you tilt the sieve so all the sauce falls from one place, or you will have cheese sauce everywhere), pour the cheese sauce into the sieve, and wait for the sauce to drain out, then throw away the lumps that are left.
Lump Removal Method 2: With a hand blender, leave the sauce in the pan and just blend out the lumps. It usually thickens a LOT when you do this (because the lumps are the flour and butter that is also the thickener that gives the sauce its consistency). If it’s too thick, stir in more milk, a little at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.