From French Béchamel to Sauce Mornay, This dish is a comfort food from top to bottom. This easy recipe has notes of garlic, the smokiness of the bacon and is perfectly creamy.
The recipe begins with making a roux, a thickener. We then flow into making a Béchamel and add cheese to make it Sauce Mornay. But that's not all we do; We add bacon for smokiness and even a few cinnamon sugar walnuts for some texture.
A while back, I can't put my finger on which restaurant; I had a creamy white sauce dish with nuts. It was delicious, with the sauce's warmth and creaminess. Our recipe adds nuts' with cinnamon and sugar that helps add sweetness to cut through the creaminess of the sauce.
Some may make this dish and say the sauce is a fancy Alfredo. In a sense, it's similar, but it has some key differences. While an Alfredo sauce relies on parmesan cheese as one of its primary thickeners, Mornay, or its mother sauce béchamel, is thickened by a roux. While both are dairy-based, Alfredo uses cream, while Mornay uses milk. Similar but different, cooking has countless sauces to enhance a dish, but with each slight variation, the sauce changes characteristics along With its name.
If you look out on question and answer sites, you'll see people talking about how they are identical sauces minus a few changes. Some comments say you need to add a few ingredients, and you've turned Mornay into Alfredo. Yeah, the difference doesn't lie in the number of elements but rather the type of ingredients. When you add milk to make a sauce, it becomes Mornay; how you can suddenly make it cream, and therefore Alfredo, while it's already incorporated? Adding butter adds fat, yes, but the ratios and portions are slightly different between butter-enhanced milk and cream.
So what's the science behind making this sauce? Let's take a look at the cheese part of the sauce. In any dish that requires the melting of cheese, the milk fat will melt around 90 degrees. Then the protein matrix will break down about 150 and 180 for gruyere and parmesan, respectively. This largely depends on the moisture content of the cheese. However, keep in mind that with too much heat, the cheese will lose moisture and re-solidify.
So how can you prevent this sauce, or any cheese sauce, from becoming stringy and solidified? Step one is to grate your cheese fine enough, so it is evenly dispersed in the sauce, and after adding the cheese, avoid heating the sauce further; too much heat will cause the proteins to tighten. Then there is the matter of stirring the sauce; I often see people want to stir to "loosen the sauce" with cheese- the small particles will come back together and make the saucer thicker/ tighten the proteins.
There are some ways to recover a sauce. Though it may seem counterintuitive, you can add small amounts of flour or cornstarch to the sauce. Keep in mind that both thicken sauces, but in the instance of cheese, the proteins will attach to the flour or cornstarch rather than other cheese particles. The better option is adding a little bit of wine or lemon juice. The acidity in both will help break up the cheese bonds
The sauce is truly a wonder. Perfect comfort food that tastes and smells fantastic. With classical French techniques and the science behind cheese sauces, you'll not only learn while making this sauce but also enjoy every second of eating it.