Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How to Make a Roux

Roux (roo) is a handy thing to know how to make. A roux is a mixture of some type of fat and flour and is used to thicken sauces, soups, and stews. Depending on what you're making, you may want a light roux, a medium roux, or a dark one. Color can range from white all the way to a deep, reddish brown. Roux can be used as the base of cream sauces, in which case a light, white, or blonde roux would be made. A light roux doesn't add much flavor if any...its job is to thicken. For things like gumbo, generally a dark roux is preferred. A dark roux lends a deep, almost nutty flavor but has less thickening power than a light roux.

The fat: my preference is vegetable oil for a dark roux and butter for a light. Some people prefer butter or margarine for every roux they make. Some use lard or Crisco. Some use chicken or duck fat. If you are aiming for a dark roux, make sure the fat you choose has a high smoke point. I don't recommend butter for a dark roux, but I'm sure someone out there will say differently.

The flour: I use all purpose. I always have it; it's easy. I used to use Wondra flour, which is a flour designed to dissolve quickly. It helps avoid lumps. I don't use it anymore because now that I've made a roux or two I don't worry about lumps.

The proportion: standard ratio is equal parts flour and fat. But, once you get the hang of making a roux, you may find that you prefer more or less flour. Kinda depends on what you are making. I like to start with equal parts flour and oil, but usually add more flour until there are no longer pools of oil.  If you have trouble with overly oily roux, try sprinkling in more flour. 

The equipment: don't use non-stick cookware, especially if you want a dark roux. Just isn't going to work out. You'll also need a spoon or spatula that you trust to be heat resistant. I like to use a wooden spatula with a nice flat edge so I can easily scrape the bottom of the pot. Some people use a whisk, but I find it spastic to get in the "corners" of a pot.

I love making roux. It is relaxing and satisfying. It is also almost magical, coaxing simple ingredients to become such a powerful cooking tool.


* This will take some time (about 30-40 minutes for a well-made dark roux). Don't rush it.
* Roux is extremely hot...it isn't called Cajun Napalm for nothing. My mother in law has a scar on the top of her foot from when roux splashed out of her pot more than 20 years ago. Be careful and pay attention to what's going on around you.

So, here we go...
Step 1: Heat oil in a pot. Use cast iron or stainless steel, not non-stick.
Step 2: When oil is hot, sprinkle in the flour. Start stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot.

Step 3: Continue stirring and scraping. If you notice small pools of oil, sprinkle in some more flour. Below would be approaching a light roux. You could use it to make a white sauce. Once the flour bubbles, add milk, cream, or half and half (warmed) and stir until smooth.

Step 4: Even if you think your arm will fall off, don't stop stirring and scraping. Don't walk away. Don't do anything except stir and scrape.

Step 5: Same old story. Stir and scrape. Notice the spatula. I like the edge on it...good for roux making.

Step 6: Now we're getting somewhere. Be patient...we're about halfway to gumbo roux.

Step 7: You know the drill by now. Stir and scrape. This is at about the point where I would stop if I was making etouffee or courtbouillon. I go darker for gumbo.

Step 8: More stirring, more scraping. I think it's relaxing...mesmerizing even. This is roughly a "peanut butter" roux. Almost there.

Step 9: Depending on how dangerously you like to live, you could push it even farther than this. If at any time you notice black flecks, I'm sorry to tell you that you've burned your roux. Don't try to use it; it will ruin your dish. Throw it out (careful, it is hot) and start over.

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