Roux The Day
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
Gumbo Weather has officially arrived!
In preparation, I'm pulling out an old blog post about the proper way to make a roux!
As I spend my afternoons crossing my fingers (and toes) for a real, substantial cold front to roll through Louisiana, I've been dusting off my Dutch Oven and my roux spoon to craft the first great gumbo of the season. Now look, we all know that someone's Maw Maw or somebody's cousin RayRay creates the best gumbo EVER and that every other one is sacrilege. I've heard it, so I'm not going to even attempt to slay that Southern Dragon today. What I'm here to talk about is mechanics. The literal nitty and gritty of making different styles of roux.
And if you find yourself asking the question, "What the heck is a roux?" well, if you're pondering making a hearty stock or soup, then Sugar you've found the right blog post. Roux is a fancy French term that is a mixture of fat and flour that is slowly cooked, then added to stews or sauces as a thickener and flavor enhancer. It's the life-blood of many a Southern or French dish, and it comes in so many colors and consistencies that the diversity might approximate the kinds of preferences you might overhear at a beauty parlor. Things like thick, blonde roux... or silky chocolate-brown roux. The lighter the roux, the lighter the flavor.
Some cheaters buy a roux, but nothing compares to making it on the spot.
What you'll need:
(portioned for a 5-quart gumbo or stew)
4 tbsp (1/4 cup) of your preferred clarified animal fat.
This is something like bacon fat, duck fat, or clarified butter. Duck fat is my choice, as it imparts great subtle flavor and has a high smoke-point. If you decide to go the route of butter, make ABSOLUTELY sure it is clarified butter, but even still, its possible to get a bit of scorching. If you detest the idea of animal fat altogether, I'd suggest a high smoke-point oil such as canola or peanut.
4-5 tbsp of all purpose flour (sifted)
This flour is what will actually be cooking in the fat, and you'll do yourself a favor if you get a finely ground style like White Lily or even Wondra. Be sure to pre-sift your flour to remove any clubs that may appear.
TOOLS: Wooden, flat-bottomed spoon or silicone spatula. Dutch Oven or enamel coated stock pot.
What you need as your stirring implement is something with a large surface area in contact with the pot. Since we're using an enamel pot, metal implements are a no-no as they will etch the porcelain.
ON STANDBY: if immediately making a soup or stew, have your diced vegetables prepped and ready to mix in. If making a sauce, have your liquid.
For Gumbo, we often used the Trinity (a mixture of diced celery, onion, and green bell pepper). If making a roux for another French dish, you may have onion, celery, and carrot. For sauces, you might have beef broth, chicken broth, or possibly cream for a blond roux. Have these things within arm's reach once you start cooking this roux, as you'll be stirring constantly!
Last warning! once you start cooking your roux, you will NOT stop stirring, so stretch those triceps and get ready to work!
Turn the heat on your pot to medium to medium-high. Nothing hot, nothing too low. Add your fat, and make sure it is completely dissolved before adding the flour. Add flour, and stir to incorporate all flour into the fat. Stir to remove all clumps. You want the flour/fat mixture (now officially a baby-roux) to be the texture of quicksand. For those unfamiliar, you want almost a thin paste here. Think wood glue, maybe just a tad thicker. If too loose, add a bit more flour. If too doughy, add a bit more fat. As the mixture cooks, it will begin to bubble and darken in color.
Keep stirring that bad-boy!
As your mixture cooks, it will slowly go from light tan to darker brown. I like to stir in a zig-zag pattern and around the edge of the pot to ensure I move all of the roux around to the hottest and coolest places on the pot. Work that wrist!
For lighter sauces and stews, stop cooking when the roux approaches the slightly tanned/blonde color like in the above picture. It's just enough to cook the raw flour taste out of the roux and to incorporate the fat. If you're going for a rich, dark gumbo or sauce, you want the roux to go all the way to a milk-chocolate brown color.
BEWARE! Once roux starts to head in the brown color spectrum, time is of the essence. It might seem like FOREVER before the roux starts to assume any color, and then when it takes off, let me tell you, it can burn quicker than a New Orleans minute during Mardi Gras.
The above picture is more caramel than my desired chocolate brown, but that's only because I have exactly half a second at the right color to stop the cooking! (Yes, this is an old pot, so that is a chip in the enamel...)
STOP! (Or how to stop cooking the roux at the desired color)
When you're just about done reaching your desired color, grab that handy bowl of diced veggies stashed near by or the liquid for your sauce. If using vegetables, dump 'em on into your roux and STIR STIR STIR to coat them! The roux will help cook the vegetables and the veggies will stop the roux cooking. Take a deep whiff, because this step smells amazing.
If making a sauce, slowly add the liquid, Keep in mind, the mixture will boil violently at first, and then dissipate. Be careful to not add too much at once and cause a boil-over. Be extra cautious when adding cream. It can scorch if not careful, so lower the temperature drastically before adding.
If saving the roux for later for another stew or sauce, you're going to have to practice at stopping right before your preferred color is reached, taking the pot off the burner completely, or dunking the hot pot into an ice bath. My personal preference is to make a roux as part of the meal preparation instead! A prepared roux may be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to one month.