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What is Cream Sauce?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 16, 2024
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A cream sauce is a savory topping that is commonly used on pasta, chicken, and fish dishes. As the main ingredient in the sauce is cream, it is usually white in color. Some cream sauces that incorporate cheese are deeper yellow or even slightly orange in color. Sometimes a cream sauce is made with tomatoes and the resulting sauce is a savory but slightly tangy sauce that has a pinkish color.

Cream sauce that is made without cheese or tomatoes usually has a delicate flavor. Sometimes that flavor is accented with herbs or spices. The most commonly added ingredients other than tomatoes and cheese are garlic, chives, white pepper, ground black pepper, and parsley. Sometimes the sauce is accented with dill, which is especially common when it is used to top off fish entrees. A cream sauce can also be made for spicy dishes by adding dried red pepper flakes to the mixture.

Cooks only need a few basic ingredients for a cream sauce. Ingredients include two tablespoons (about 28 grams or 30 milliliters)of butter, two tablespoons (about 28 grams) of all purpose flour, one cup (250 milliliters) of milk, one-third cup (about 80 milliliters)of heavy cream, and salt to taste.

Before making the sauce, warm the milk in a separate pan. In order to begin making the cream sauce, first melt the butter in a sauce pan. Use medium heat and be sure not to brown or burn the butter. Add the flour and stir until it is well mixed in with the butter without leaving any lumps. Once this has been done, slowly stir in the warm milk.

Keep the mixture over medium heat and continue to stir it until it begins to boil, at which point the cream sauce will begin to thicken. Then, reduce the heat to low and continue to stir as you allow the sauce to simmer for another four to six minutes. At this point, add the cream. If you plan to flavor the sauce with white wine, as many people like to do, it should be added shortly after the cream.

This recipe makes between one and a quarter and one and a half cups (between 310 and 375 milliliters) of basic cream sauce. This recipe can be used to flavor a variety of dishes such as pastas, chicken dishes, and seafood dishes as well as casseroles.

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Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Jun 20, 2014

My favorite curry sauce starts as a cream sauce. I do the basic sauce and use milk, then add some chicken broth, curry powder, garlic, soy sauce, black pepper and hot sauce and presto! Instant curry! It's really not that difficult. You just have to stay with it, but that's the case with any roux-type sauce. You can't let it get away from you, or get distracted, or it will burn. A burned roux has to be thrown away, and will stink up the house!

By Grivusangel — On Jun 19, 2014

Essentially what you're doing when you're making a cream sauce is making a roux. You melt the butter and add the flour to it, then stir until smooth and whisk in the cream slowly. It's a roux.

A cream sauce is also a called a bechamel sauce, or a "mother sauce" for a reason: it's the base of so many different sauces. Add cheese to it and you have a mornay sauce.

Cream sauces are good, but I actually like the rose sauces, which have some tomato sauce added to them. The acidity of the tomato helps balance the richness of the cream.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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