Here’s a nifty meal helper for when you have a busy week coming up: make-ahead alfredo sauce!
The sauce can be made in about 10 minutes and then stashed in the fridge until you need it. Reheat and toss with pasta, veggies, or anything that could use a little saucy, cheesy assistance to make it delicious.
If you’re feeling fancy, you can call this sauce by its classic French name: mornay sauce. If you’re feeling even fancier, you can explain to your adoring dinner companions that a mornay sauce is just a bechamel to which you’ve added a generous amount of cheese. And what is a bechamel but a roux-based sauce made with butter, flour, and milk. Of course.
If this all sounds slightly intimidating, don’t you fret. Making this sauce is one of the easiest, most doable recipes ever.
Here’s what you do: Whisk together some flour and butter in a pan over medium heat. This is the roux! Now whisk in some warm milk. Let it thicken up a little bit until it feels creamy and silky while you stir, then add the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted. Done.
When you first start whisking the warm milk into the roux, it will clump up and look an awful lot like you’ve made a horrible mistake. Never fear — those clumps will thin out as you continue adding the milk. First, they’ll take on the consistency of mashed potatoes, then pureed cauliflower, and then a sauce. Just keep calm and carry on adding the milk a little at a time while whisking.
Also, don’t wait for the milk to thicken up completely before adding the cheese since the cheese will thicken it even more. You want to add the cheese just at the point when the milk is thick enough to coat the spoon and the sides of the pan in a thick milky layer. If you’re starting to wonder if it’s time to add the cheese, it probably is.
If the sauce seems too thin after you’ve added the cheese, just let it simmer for a few more minutes on low heat until it’s as thick as you like. Conversely, if the sauce seems too thick (either now or when you’re warming it back up again), just whisk in a splash of milk, broth, or water to thin it out again.
The real magic of this sauce is that it reheats so well. So many cheese sauces are prone to separating into gritty cheese and puddles of greasy liquid when reheated, but not this sauce. The flour in the roux makes this a very stable, very reliable, and very forgiving sauce.
The sauce will harden into a thick paste once it cools in the fridge, but give it a few minutes of gentle heat on the stovetop or in the microwave, and it will once again become silky and creamy. If you see a few little beads of fat starting to form, just whisk vigorously to blend them back in.
Don’t limit yourself to just using Parmesan for this recipe. You can really use any cheese you like — cheddar, Swiss, gruyere, gouda… You get the idea. Use the best quality, and best tasting, cheese you can find. It’s the main ingredient, so it makes a big difference in the tastiness of your finished sauce.
What to do with your cheese sauce? Oh, let me count the ways. You can toss it with pasta, bien sur. Use fettuccine if you’re craving fettuccine alfredo, or elbows if you want mac and cheese. The sauce is also great spooned over steamed vegetables, baked potatoes, fish and other seafood, or chicken.
I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Good thing I still have a few jars stashed away in my fridge. Happy cooking, everyone!
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk, plus extra as needed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 to 1 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (3 to 3 1/3 ounces, 85 to 128 grams)
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
1 Warm the milk: In the microwave (30-second bursts) or on the stovetop, warm the milk until it’s warm to the touch and a bit steamy. (It does not need to be boiling hot; just warm.) Set aside.
2 Make the roux: Melt the butter over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over top, then whisk together using a whisk.
Continue to cook the roux, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. This cooks off the raw flour flavor. It’s ok if the roux turns a golden color, but continue immediately to the next step if it starts to brown significantly.
3 Whisk in the warm milk: Add about 1/4 cup of the warm milk to the roux and whisk. Add another 1/4 cup and whisk some more. The roux will seize up into clumps.
Continue adding the milk in small 1/4-cup increments, whisking continuously. The clumps will eventually smooth out and look like mashed potatoes, then a thick puree, and then a sauce. Once it looks like a sauce, whisk in any remaining milk. This step should only take about a minute. You can move through the phases fairly quickly.
4 Cook the sauce: Once all the milk has been added, continue to cook the sauce over medium heat while whisking, for 3 to 5 minutes. It’s ready when it looks like heavy cream — slightly thickened and silky.
5 Stir in the Parmesan: Add all of the cheese at once. Whisk until the cheese has melted into the sauce and is no longer visible. At this point, the sauce should look quite thick and creamy.
You can cook it a little longer, whisking occasionally, to let it thicken a little more if you like, but it’s better to err on the side of a too-thin sauce at this point. It will thicken a bit more when you reheat it.
6 Store the alfredo sauce: Transfer the sauce to storage containers and cool completely. A skin will form on the surface of the sauce and the sauce will thicken to a paste-like consistency; this is normal. Refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to a month.
7 Reheat the sauce: If your sauce was frozen, transfer it to the fridge to thaw overnight before reheating.
Transfer the sauce into a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl. Gently warm over low heat, or in 30-second bursts in the microwave, until warmed. Stir occasionally, or between every 30-second burst in the microwave. It will start off very thick and paste-like, but will soften and return to a sauce as it warms.
If the sauce seems too thick, whisk in a splash of milk, broth, or water until the sauce is as thinned as you like.
8 Use reheated sauce immediately: Toss with cooked pasta or pour over cooked vegetables, chicken, or fish.