Roux (roo) is basically a thickening agent made from flour and oil. It is used to thicken sauces, soups, stews. It can also be used as a flavor enhancer depending on the color level the roux is cooked to. Roux dates back over 300 years to French cuisine.
If you want to really make an award winning sauce, soup, or stew learn to make a roux. It’s an extremely easy process that every home cook should know about and use.
The difference in a roux and other thickening agents is that the flour is cooked before use in other dishes. Cooking the flour removes its raw taste. The result is a smooth and delicate thickener.
Vegetable oil is generally used as the oil for a roux, but animal fats are also used. When making a Roux it is best to make it in quantity, as this is easier to obtain the desired consistency and color. If made in a small amount you run the risk of burning and not having a silky smooth roux.
The measurements for making a roux are 1 part flour and 1 part oil or animal fat in weight. If you don’t have a kitchen scale to weigh this out then plan on 1 part oil/fat and 1 ¾ part flour (use all-purpose flour).
I usually make 1 cup oil/fat to 1 3/4 cup flour, as I like to make a bigger quantity so I don’t run the risk of burning. You can store the roux in the fridge for up to 3 months and use as you need it. If you don’t think you’ll use it within 3 months, share with your friend and give them your favorite recipe that you use the roux in. Heat your oil/fat over medium heat until a sprinkle of the flour in the oil just begins to bubble. Stir in 1-3/4 cups of flour to form a thick paste the consistency of cake frosting. Once you start the roux, DON’T leave it. Get a glass of wine and stay put, hovering and stirring!
Continue stirring as the roux gently bubbles/foams and cooks to the color you desire (see below for colors and cooking times). Do not allow the roux to bubble/foam too strongly, or it will burn rather than brown.
Roux begins to thicken soon after it is combined with a liquid, but it must be simmered for 10 to 20 minutes for it to reach its full flavor and thickening potential. This additional cooking time permits the flour to soften and absorb the liquid, resulting in a silky smooth soup or sauce. If the simmering time is too short the flour in the roux will remain grainy.
To guarantee thickening without the lumps remember this general rule: cold ingredients should always be added to hot. When making roux as part of a recipe, the liquid ingredient must be cold or room temperature, and slowly whisked into the hot roux. Do this by adding the liquid a little at a time, stirring until smooth between each addition, until the roux forms a thin paste, then whisk in the remaining liquid and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cold or room temperature roux is stirred into a simmering soup or sauce until it dissolves. These methods make certain the roux is integrated slowly and the mixture will not form lumps.
When the roux has finished cooking, pour it into a metal or heatproof container and allow it to cool. As it rests, the flour will begin to settle to the bottom, and the oil will rise to the surface. Stir the oil back into the flour before using as this will make the roux dissolve smoothly. If you decide to pour off the oil, the roux will still work, but it will require more stirring into a sauce in order to fully dissolve.
The amount of time the roux cooks determines the color of the roux. There are four color levels a Roux can reach (your recipe will usually specify the color level to reach for):
White – used in light sauces/soups such as clam chowders, milk-based sauces, macaroni and cheese, classic white sauce. Cooked around 5 minutes, just long enough to take away the raw taste of the flour.
Blonde – used for stock based stews, sauces, and soups. Cooked around 20 minutes. The color is most like lightly toasted bread. This color level is the most commonly used because of it’s rich flavor (nutty), and the thickening power.
Brown – Used in Cajun and Creole dishes, hearty stews or chowders. Cooked around 35 minutes, to obtain a peanut butter color. The aroma of this colored roux is much nuttier than the blonde color. Cooked for this amount of time the roux will lose some of it’s thickening power but give off a richer flavor, therefore more of the roux will need to be used to obtain the thickening power desired.
Dark brown – Used in Cajun and Creole dishes, and hearty stews and soups. Cooked around 45 minutes to the color of ‘dark brown’. The end result is a faint chocolaty aroma! This of course is one of my favorites! The color of roux has less thickening power due to the length of time cooked but the flavor factor is intense. This color level will give you a flavor enhancer first and thickening agent second.
Remember that the secret to a good roux is ‘patience’, as in slow and easy. Cook it too fast and you burn it. Set aside some time to make the roux. This is why it is best to make it in quantity, then when you need it, it’s made and you can spend your precious time on the dish at hand. I have tried cooking roux in aluminum, cast iron, stainless steel and Teflon pans and I have found that cast iron and stainless steel work best. But then I don’t claim to be an expert either!
My favorite recipe that I make which uses a roux is my
DARK CHOCOLATE SHRIMP ETOUFFEE:
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
2 cups chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons Donya Marie’s Dark Chocolate Spicy Meat Rub
1 quart chicken stock
3 pounds medium shrimp (21 to 25 count per pound), peeled and de-veined
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
Steamed white rice, for serving
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion tops, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven set over medium heat.
Add the flour and stir continuously to make a roux. Stir the roux over medium heat until it is the color of peanut butter, 35 minutes.
Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic to the roux, and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes to the pot and season with the bay leaves, salt, cayenne, and 1 tablespoon of Donya Marie’s Dark Chocolate Spicy Meat Rub. Cook the tomatoes for 2 to 3 minutes and then whisk in the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
Cook the etouffee, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
Season the shrimp with the remaining tablespoon of Meat Rub and add them to the pot, stirring to evenly distribute. Cook the shrimp for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they are cooked through.
Add the chopped parsley to the pot and stir to combine.
Serve immediately over steamed white rice and garnish with sliced green onion tops.