Creamed things on toast

With Thanksgiving looming before us, it’s time we had a little cooking lesson.

I am going to share with you the the first thing Mama taught me to cook. With this recipe she gave me the key to making most anything reasonably palatable, using up leftovers, and making the perfect gravy. Just this one basic recipe opened up hundreds, if not thousands, of dinner possibilities. Are you ready?

So when you’re staring into the pantry or the freezer wondering what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks you’re going to cook for dinner, wondering how you are going to impress your new love, wondering what will make your child ingest something that remotely resembles a vegetable, reach into the deep recesses of your mind and pull out these two words: white sauce.

Yes, white sauce, otherwise known by foodies and other hotty snotty types as Béchamel sauce. It sounds fancy when you say it in French, but it is really the plainest, easiest, most versatile weapon in your kitchen arsenal. Once you have committed the simple recipe to memory, the world is your oyster — your creamed oyster, on toast.

Here is the magic formula:

  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 cup of milk

Melt that butter in a small saucepan then take it off the heat. Whisk in the flour and put it all back on the fire. Slowly add the milk, constantly whisking to avoid lumps. Cook over medium heat, while you stir stir stir until it gets thick. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Black pepper leaves unsightly flecks, and we can’t have that!

What do I do now, you might wonder.

What can’t you do, I might respond.

Think of the creamed chipped beef on toast from your childhood, or at least my childhood, colloquially known as “shit on a shingle.” This timeless comfort food is nothing but white sauce and chopped up meat slices, which come from a little jar that conveniently turns into a juice glass. Talk about multipurpose.

What else? Add some cheese and cooked macaroni and guess what you have. Leave out the macaroni and serve it over broccoli for the young ‘uns. Leftover Thanksgiving turkey? A few English peas? No problem. Mix it all in some white sauce and slop it over a leftover biscuit. Delish.

Now here’s a twist. Exchange the milk for broth and your white sauce is magically transformed into Velouté sauce. Doesn’t that sound fancy? Much fancier than plain old gravy, which is exactly what it is. Throw in some giblets, a little wine, maybe some mushrooms. Perfect for Thanksgiving or any other day.

You are only limited by your imagination and cache of canned, jarred, and leftover food. Experiment with herbs, cheeses, and other add-ins. Serve over bread, pasta, rice — whatever you like.

If you can make white sauce, you can make anything. And when you do, thank my Mama.