The Nutmeg Toasting Technique For More Decadent Béchamel Sauce

To add a sneaky layer of creaminess to your next dish, look no further than béchamel sauce. One of the five French mother sauces with a royal origin, béchamel is made using a combination of butter, flour, and milk that is whisked over heat until a lush, silky sauce is achieved. When added to classic dishes like lasagna, fish pie, or any saucy, savory meal, the result is an added touch of luxury that will have you eager to make it again and again.

With a base consisting of simple ingredients, béchamel is the perfect blank canvas for creative flavor combinations.  Including complementary herbs and spices that work with the dish will transform the taste, but one ingredient stands out above them all. Adding a touch of spice and indulgence to your béchamel sauce relies on one special seasoning: nutmeg. But first, let's explore a different approach to cooking butter when creating the base of a béchamel sauce — making a roux. 

Use brown butter to elevate a roux

The base of any good béchamel sauce is a roux, the mix of flour and butter that acts as the glue for the sauce. You might have already mastered making a roux for your Thanksgiving gravy, but in case you need a refresher, taking the classic approach is a breeze. To make a roux for béchamel, begin by heating the butter and whisking in equal parts flour, cooking it just long enough to get the raw flavor out of the flour but not so long that it takes on any color (like you might when making gumbo).

This standard approach to a roux is great on its own, but Stefano Secchi of Michelin-starred Rezdôra in New York City tells Food & Wine that a perfect béchamel sauce begins with browned butter. "You want to talk about bringing béchamel to a higher level — even more rich and decadent — brown the butter." Brown butter is easily made by heating butter until a golden brown hue is achieved and an almost caramelized, toasty flavor is present. If you thought the sauce already peaked in decadence, Secchi recommends adding nutmeg as an essential ingredient to elevate any béchamel sauce.

Toast nutmeg in brown butter for decadent béchamel

For a more decadent béchamel sauce, toast grated nutmeg in brown butter. Stefano Secchi always browns the butter first before adding in the grated nutmeg, noting to Food & Wine that "toast[ing] the nutmeg inside the brown butter [is] gonna blow people away." This is because the warmed butter blooms the spice, helping it infuse better. And Bon Appétit agrees, suggesting that nutmeg lends "a considerable amount of warmth, spice, and complexity." It's a comforting addition that will make all the difference.

To use this technique at home, start by browning butter in a saucepan, adding in grated nutmeg and cooking until it's toasted. Then, whisk in flour to create a roux and slowly add in milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Once the sauce has thickened, add salt to taste and your béchamel sauce will be ready to heighten any dish. Despite its decadence, making béchamel sauce couldn't be easier. Try adding the mother sauce to recipes like creamy chicken and wild rice soup.