There’s always that one friend that you meet in life where you think to yourself, “Self, how have you survived without them in your life so far???”. I’m lucky to have met one of those wonderful people recently, and come to find out, her husband is a writer and an excellent cook! There was no question that he needed to be on the site, and I’m glad he wrote something. I had NO idea there was so much to roux! Thank you, Jason!
*Photos from Escoffier.edu.
This isn’t exactly a recipe, but more of a stream of consciousness journey with Roux. It can take trial and error to get it right, but once you do, you’re half way to Escoffier*. If you already know all about it, hopefully you will at least be amused by my musings.
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
Plan ahead. How much do you need? The amount above, depending on your needs, is good for about 2 cups of milk or stock. Working with a larger scale? Make more. It keeps in the refrigerator forever.
Want to use olive oil and soy milk for a vegan recipe? No problem. Have some bacon or sausage grease? Sure. Love guanciale (pork jowl by another name)? You betcha! The kitchen is a lawless country.
Melt the butter in a sizable sauce pan (2-3 quart) over medium heat. Add in the flour and mix well. Once it is well mixed you should be able to see the bottom of the pan for a few seconds if you drag your utensil across the bottom. I have an old, worn down wooden spoon that I use for this purpose. A whisk will work too, but you want to make sure you can get into the corners with whatever you have.
Heat is negotiable. Medium heat will get you there in reasonable time and I prefer it, but if you’re in a hurry go ahead and crank it up.
Be warned: It is really easy to fail when you turn up the heat, so pay attention and don’t stop stirring. Keep your mise en place in arm’s reach. Don’t look away or answer your phone. Good luck.
Notice the smell. Once it is ready, it will smell a little like pastry (flour + butter).
Now you have a white roux.
Remember that when you add liquids to a roux, you should go slowly. A half a cup or so at a time. Once you pour in the first one, everything will start to seize up. Bring in the whisk and mix it until it is uniform. Add a little more and whisk again. Now you can add the rest in 2 or 3 stages, whisking in between. Keep whisking and you will never have lumps.
The more liquid you add, the thinner it will be. Milk is good. Cream will make a richer sauce and be a little thicker from the start. You can use stock or water in addition to milk if you need to thin it out a little.
It’s ideal to heat the milk with nutmeg and seasonings (garlic, salt, pepper, herbs, etc) before you mix with your roux, but you can go straight from the fridge when needs must.
1 Cool the roux down and store it in an air tight container in the refrigerator. That way you don’t have to go through all of that every time. It will set up pretty hard so something relatively flat made of metal or glass should suffice.
2 Add milk or cream and season with salt and pepper. Freshly grated nutmeg is essential with any dairy based bechamel sauce. Don’t be shy. Trust me.
This is basic bechamel sauce. It is one of the mother sauces for a reason and an essential base for most of your smothering and saucing needs. It is a bit of blank canvas at this point though, so…
3 Mornay it: Add milk or cream + cheese for all of your pasta dreams. Mac and Cheese, Alfredo, whatever. Be sure to add the cheese in small batches and whisk until the whisk comes out clean.
You may get a little mass of melted cheese at the bottom that gets tangled up with the whisk. It’s ok. You, like me, are a little impatient. Keep whisking and remember that shortcuts lead to longer paths sometimes. Don’t forget the nutmeg.
4 Add crumbled cooked sausage, milk or cream, and black pepper for smothering biscuits with Sawmill Gravy.
5 Thicken soup with it. Hack off a piece of the batch that you keep in your refrigerator, throw it into the soup and then bring to a slow simmer and stir until dissolved. Magic.
6 Did your shiitake log take off? You can make a killer mushroom soup with an onion, some garlic (the more the merrier) and a few other things.
Make a bechamel sauce with more milk that you normally would. Slice up the mushrooms and saute them until they start to brown. Bring in the diced onion and minced garlic to sweat. I like fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary too. Hit the pan with a splash of sherry (or Shaoxing cooking wine) until everything is deglazed. Mix the mushrooms with the bechamel and Robert’s your mother’s brother. Simmer for a little while bring the flavors together and serve.
7 There are plenty of other uses. Surprise us.
Or you can cook it a little longer until it turns golden/tan. Now you have a blonde roux. Add a light stock to make velouté, which is also a mother sauce and great for all kinds of things from fish to vegetables.
You can go darker still.
Resist the urge to increase the heat. This takes time, but you will be rewarded.
Once you have achieved “roux” (a reddish, coppery color), you will smell toasted nuts and caramel. You will get hungry.
At this stage, you can add chicken stock and freshly ground black pepper for the best smothered fried chicken ever.
At around the color of milk chocolate, you can add beef broth for beef stew, sauce espagnole or curry powder for a warming Japanese style Curry.
Just remember that the darker it gets, the less it will thicken.
It is a dangerous road and requires a lot of patience and attention, but you can go all the way to the color of melted dark chocolate. You’ll be afraid that you’re going to burn it. This is a critical point though. Don’t get distracted.
Don’t worry, you’ll know if you’ve burnt it. It will smoke and the fire alarm will go off. Calmly remove the pan from the heat, open a window and let it cool. Clean out the pot and scrub until the black marks are gone (Barkeeper’s Friend is magic). Then start over and mark it down as a lesson well learned on your way to mastery.
Once you are there, dump in a pile of cut okra, bell pepper, onion and celery. Go look up Justin Wilson for the rest. Gumbo is serious business.
*If you go look this up in Escoffier or something similar you will see that a traditional roux is made with more flour than butter (1.75 tbsp:1 tbsp) and they recommend clarified butter at that. If you think you’ll need more thickening power, go right ahead and add more flour. If you don’t mind clarifying butter, then go ahead. Its nice to have on hand. This method will work for the majority of your needs.