Truth be told, I didn’t learn how to make a dark, rich roux from my family. My relatives, who are all incredibly talented and passionate cooks, prepare meals with a heavy Creole hand. So their sauces and gravies generally rely on butter-based white and blond roux. My mom’s Seafood Gumbo, a recipe handed down from my great-grandmother, also follows Creole lines. The gumbo is thickened with a light roux and okra and is flavored liberally with tomato sauce. I was a young adult before I associated the rich, smoky flavors of other gumbos, étouffées and dark gravies with a roux. And it was around that same time that I realized I needed to learn how to make one.
My first attempt at a roux was a total disaster. I burned it, set off the smoke alarm, thickened my Crawfish Étouffée with it anyway and served it to my mom. She ate it with great delight as only a mom could. It took a while for me to muster up the courage to try a second roux. Fortunately, that attempt was better than the first, although I did cop-out a bit by cooking the mixture over a lower heat and yanking my roux off of the fire before it reached its full “milk chocolate” potential.
While I do not encourage the self-taught method of roux-making, I think your chances of pulling it off the first time are much greater if you learn from my mistakes. So I’ve come up with a few extra pointers to help guide you through the process:
- Plan on giving the roux your undivided attention from start to finish. An unattended roux can burn in a second.
- Start with a very clean, heavy-bottom skillet that is at least 2 inches deep. I prefer cast-iron.
- Use a long-handled metal whisk for stirring (and keeping your hands far away from the hot oil).
- To determine when your oil has reached the smoking point, carefully get within eye level of the skillet. You should be able to see small gray puffs of smoke billowing from the oil’s surface.
- Add the flour to the hot oil in small batches. If you add too much at one time, you risk burning the flour. Adding too much too soon can also cause the oil to overflow creating a huge fire risk.
- Whisk, whisk, whisk. Keep the roux moving at all times to avoid scorching, being especially mindful of the outer rim of the skillet where the roux is most likely to burn.
- If you see black specs floating in the oil, you have accidentally burned the roux. Discard the burnt roux and start over. Just make sure it’s cool before you throw it in the trash.
- Cook roux to the consistency of wet sand at low tide: moist and glossy. The roux should not look greasy.
- Most recipes that call for a roux will include chopped seasoning vegetables consisting of onions, celery and green bell pepper. In south Louisiana, we affectionately refer to this threesome as the “Holy Trinity.” Before you begin your roux, make sure the trinity is chopped and within arms’ reach of your skillet. The trinity is added at a critical point in the cooking process to stop the roux from browning any further, so it’s imperative that the vegetables are fully prepped before the cooking process begins.
- To help prevent the roux from breaking or separating in your finished dish, make sure the roux and the liquid (water or stock) are at similar temperatures. Don’t add cold roux to hot liquid or vice versa. Also, gradually add one to the other whisking constantly between additions. Allow the roux to absorb the liquid from each addition by cooking it for about 20-30 seconds. If you’re cooking on the fly and not from a recipe, make sure you have the proper ratio of roux to liquid, because too much liquid can also cause a roux to separate.
Hopefully these 10 tips will give you a good head start on making your first roux. Once you’ve mastered the process, gather your friends and family in the kitchen and pass it on.