Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Primer: Roux


You'll Roux the day you cook without me! Revenge is mine!

Well, maybe you won't rue the day you don't use a roux, but they definitely prove very useful. During this primer I'll talk about what a roux is, how to make one, and when to use one.

So you are creating that perfect sauce, say a white sauce, with cream milk and artisan cheese. Everything is going good until you decide to thicken it. You add a little flour thinking that the starches in the flour will thicken the sauce. Instead you get a lump of goo inside a thin sauce. Gross! Don't even put the cheese in, just dump it out... it's ruined.

Simply put, a roux (pronounced ROO) is flour mixed with equal parts liquid fat. (such as oil, butter, bacon grease, or any other liquid fat.)

As paraphrased from Matt Pelton's great Dutch oven book, The Cast Iron Chef, there are 3 types of roux:

1. Blonde Roux
2. Brown Roux
3. Brick Roux

The blonde roux is cooked long enough just to mix the flour and oil. The gluten in the flour have not had a chance to cook. The blonde roux adds the least amount of flavor in the sauce of the 3 roux. If you have a sauce that you really want to showcase the sauce and not the thickening agent then use a blonde roux. A blonde roux is golden in color.

The brown roux is cooked so that the flour gluten is released and is brown in color. Don't be fooled; it is not burnt. It adds a rich flavor to the sauce and is typically used in heavy sauces such as gravy and stews. Cook the roux for 10-15 minutes until it is a brown color.

The brick roux is so named because the flour is cooked until the gluten is completely released and it is the color of a red brick. This roux adds the most flavor to the dish and it mostly used in Cajun cooking. It is not common to use the brick roux, unless you are cooking Cajun because it adds a strong flavor to the sauce.

Roux does not keep extremely well in the fridge, probably no more than a week. I usually make it as I need it, using the fats from the meat I cooked with, or olive oil for a more healthy meal.

A roux can be spiced up by sauteing some chopped garlic with the oil, or adding any spice when adding the flour. This adds a subtle flavor to the roux, and therefore the sauce.

Using different types of flour will yield different results. Bleached white flour gives the best color, while a whole wheat flour will yield a better flavor. Grinding your own wheat to make the roux is best, but not very convenient, unless you have an electric wheat grinder.

Other thickening agents that can be used are cornstarch, which actually can be added straight into a hot sauce. Make sure the sauce is near boiling and sift the cornstarch first to reduce clumping. Cornstarch adds essentially no flavor to the sauce, so it is perfect for delicate sauces.

Corn masa or ground hominy can be added to chilies to thicken and add a savory flavor.

Next time you want to thicken that cream sauce, don't just dump in a starch and pray. Plan ahead and cook a roux, remove it from the pot and then add a little at a time until it thickens to your satisfaction. Remember, you can add more liquid, but if you run out of roux, you have to make more. That is why I usually make my sauces a little too thick at first, then add more liquid if necessary.

Bon Appetit!
The Outdoors Start at Your Back Porch!

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