Yesterday, I made creamed tuna for lunch. It's a comfort food here – something we go to when someone is tired or down (and sometimes even sick.) It's also one of the cooking arenas where my husband admits I'm great. (We get a bit competitive in the kitchen.)
The reason I think this is worth blogging is because it is made with white (or bechamel) sauce. For the sake of those who don't cook much – or who want to cook with a small child – this is one of the first dishes I learned to make. It's also considered one of the “great” sauces that is a mother sauce for many different variations.
White sauce (bechamel) is all about ratios. It's made of equal parts of butter and flour to make the roux, and then the amount of liquid determines the ultimate consistency. 2 T butter and flour to a cup of milk makes a thin sauce while 4 T of butter and flour makes a thicker sauce. I double the recipe from the beginning because we like it as leftovers. So I've listed the amount for our thick double recipe. Also, I want to say up front that I no longer really measure – I add things as I go.
8 T butter (one stick)
8 T flour (½ C)
2 C milk
2 cans light chunk tuna in water
Assemble the ingredients. Once you get started, it's too late to realize you don't have enough milk! (Not totally true.)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. (We have an electric stove that goes from 1 to 10 and I use 4 for this.) Faster is not better here – the biggest ingredient is patience.
Once the butter is melted, gradually stir in the flour. You want it to make a smooth consistency and be just bubbly. Then stir in salt and pepper; I just eyeball this, but perhaps a teaspoon of salt and ½ tsp of pepper. This creates a roux, or paste. Allow the roux to cook just a bit – because this is a white sauce, you don't want the flour or butter to brown, but you do want the raw flour taste cooked out.
Next you stir in milk. It's important to also do this gradually as you want to avoid lumps. (You can use a whisk at this point to reduce lumpiness as well.) As you stir in the milk, the roux absorbs quite a bit, so you end up with a thick stodge.
You have to persevere, and eventually you end up with a nice smooth sauce. Then you let the sauce warm almost to a boil, or until it thickens. This is the time when careful attention helps – if you walk away, it can scorch frustratingly quickly – and that's no fun to work with!
Once the sauce thickens, if it gets too thick, you can add a bit of milk or water to thin it. Then you stir in the meat (or cheese, or peas, or whatever add-ins you are using) and wah-la the sauce is ready.
Then you ladle this over toast. I like it on the flavorless mess known as Wonder bread, but any bread will do, of course. For Mr. Spoon, I leave the toast whole and he eats with a knife and fork. I chunk my toast and ladle the tuna over.
White sauce also works to make cheese sauce – you just cut in cheese at the last step (instead of tuna) and it makes a lovely smooth topping for noodles, broccoli or cauliflower. I also use both cheese and tuna and make a tuna casserole with it. And, of course, it can be used with macaroni to make homemade macaroni and cheese.
(I can see I need to work on food styling.)