Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Incredibly Simple Secret to Lump-Free Sauce

Outside of a few choice Black Eyed Peas videos, lumps are rarely associated with something good. When it comes to making sauces and gravies, nothing causes performance anxiety in an inexperienced cook like these malevolent masses. The good news is there's an incredibly simple way to prevent lumps.

Repeat after me, "Hot roux, cold milk, no lumps." That's it. As you'll see in the video, no matter how sloppy your sauce making techniques are, as long as your liquid is cold, and your roux is hot, lumps are almost impossible to create. Below the video, I've given the ingredients for the simple white sauce I used to illustrate my point. I turned mine into a beautiful macaroni and cheese, but this has so many other applications that mastery of its silky-smoothness is mandatory for any wannabe cook. Enjoy!



Ingredients:
3 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

28 comments:

Livia said...

My grandma taught me this trick when I was a teenager. I still remember it, and use it always!
Thanks for sharing with everyone who didn't have such a thoughtful grandma :-)

Robert Lewis said...

Hi Chef. What is the name of your theme song? I love that tune.

Chef John said...

called "Buddy" in iMovie software

Livia, I was lucky to have a thoughtful grandma too!

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a school of people who think that hot milk into hot roux will prevent lumps (e.g. the Food Network chefs who tell us to 'heat up the milk in another saucepan' all the time). Any validity there?

Anonymous said...

last time i made the white sauce, it tasted like raw flower. thanks for the tip.

Chef John said...

i believe everything i hear on the Food Network ;-)

Marco Barisione said...

Really? I was always told the milk has to be room temperature or warmer. In that case you can just throw the milk in and you won't get any lump, while if you use cold milk you have to be very careful.

Being an engineer now I will have to try both ways side by side and verify the opposite claims...

Chef John said...

don't bother, cold is the way to go, AND it saves a step. You saw the video right? Works like a charm even if you try to screw it up.

Chris K. said...

Adding hot liquid to hot roux causes the resulting sauce to thicken very quickly. Basically you get a sticky mess that's difficult to work with. Sure, you could whisk the crap out of it, but that's a lot of extra work. And if the starch granules from the flour aren't adequately separated into the roux, you will get lumpy sauce anyway.

Using cold liquids allows you to slow the rate at which those starch granules in the roux gelatinize (fancy word for "thicken") - which in turn minimizes the chance of lumps forming in the sauce.

Of course, there are circumstances where you may want to use hot liquid (such as infusions). In those cases you can let the roux cool down a bit off the flame, and then add the hot liquid.

But whatever. The point is to incorporate two ingredients at differing temperatures in order to slow the thickening process. It's essentially the same principle as tempering eggs.

Some cooks prefer to use hot liquids precisely because it's faster. But most home cooks don't need that urgency. They just want the sauce to turn out right. Right?

Lucia said...

Funny enough, I have seen profesional chefs do it with warm milk claiming it works for them.

Also have family members that warm the milk and turn fine.

Personally I use it cold because that's how it comes from the fridge.

For me, I think i somewhat managed to get lumps both ways and what only seems to work for me is not add too much at at time and mix, mix, mix. At least on the first step that it is when it is most critical.

My thoughts here are that depending on how much you add at the time and how hot your pan is, the milk might warm really quick and then maybe not longer making a difference the initial temperature.

Then again I might just be too clumsy for these tricks.

tonkaslim said...

What causes a sauce to separate, Chef? Any way to save once that happens? I made an alfredo sauce recently and it started fine but ended up an ugly grainy mess.

Chef John said...

That's a bit complicated since all types of sauces "break" for different reasons. Cheese sauces usually separate when the cheese "cooks" and the fat leaks out. No real way to unbreak a cheese sauce.

Jesse said...

Check out that macro-moneyshot! Nice shootin, tex. ;)

Razors Edge said...

Thanks for the tips on sauce making. I've only done it a few times but most recently it turned out a bit 'granular'... if that makes any sense. Not sure pouring the flour in right as it started to sing would cause that..

Naomi said...

Chef John! My food wish is for you to make a Caprese Salad! I don't know if you know what that is... but it's so delicious and easy, and it tasted really good with roasted red peppers. Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella slices with Basil or Pesto and fresh cracked red pepper... with sometimes balsamic glaze.

nonienae46 said...

Hi Chef John, my question is "When do you add the seasonings to the cream sauce"? Is it while your cooking the roux or after it's thru cooking?

Chef John said...

I may, but ONLY late this summer when the tomatoes are sweet and ripe. Chefs that make that salad using supermarket tomatoes are hacks!

Chef John said...

the spices for this can be added at the end after the milk

momgateway said...

thanks for the great tip-

Elijah said...

LOL! Keep the 'stache! That's great!
Most of the chefs at my culinary school are clean shaven. Chef Tom Hickey, the head of our school and grand commander of the Golden Toque has a legendary mustache. I think that is reason enough for a chef to grow/keep a 'stache going, even the ladies.

Amanda said...

I make my mac and cheese the same way! Glad I found your blog, having fun digging through your old posts :)

Chef John said...

mots people add when the milk is added, but doesn't really matter too much.

Yard Sales Kingdom said...

If i want to make this into a pasta sauce, would I want to use heavy cream instead of milk? I saw that most of your pasta recipes use heavy cream instead of milk.

Chef John said...

no, use as is. cream is usually not thickened as much

Anonymous said...

how to make lump free polenta?

Radhika said...

Use a beater and whip/beat the sauce constantly for 2-3 minutes. No lumps :)
In case there are too many, just run the blender and you'll get an even consistency. It'll be a little thick though. So, make sure to save extra milk to mix later!

Miguel Ferreira said...

Chef John after many many attempts, I can't seem to get rouxs right. If I set the heat on medium-low the butter will take ages to melt and the flour doesn't seem to cook at all. If I turn up the heat, it just starts smelling like pie crust a couple of seconds after I add the flour, burning. The only way I have managed to get a good roux is to set the heat at medium and after adding the flour I need to remove the pan from the heat, let it cool, back to the heat, and so forth. Why does it have to be that way?

Chef John said...

Sorry,but I have no idea! Should look and behave like the video. Ages to melt? I don't understand. Wait until it melts, add flour and cook.