Monday, April 20, 2009
We beah gettin' motier foux Cajun today, Peeshwanks! Ah Yeeeeee!
Dear Tricia, What is the best way to make and store roux? What are its origins?
To begin, lets break down what roux actually is. Traditionally, roux is equal parts by weight (as opposed to a cup of butter and a cup of flour which is completely different and will just make a mess) of clarified butter and flour cooked together to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups. However, when you're making gravy (Sausage gravy in my world. ALWAYS sausage gravy.) you use the fat from the meat that is going in your gravy instead of butter. There are also many Cajun and Creole recipes that use oil instead of butter. However, hearing Cajun folk talk is so distracting that they could probably use dog food and pine needles to make a roux and I'd never notice.
To prepare a roux, put your desired fat (clarified butter, regular butter, bacon fat, whatever) in a pan and melt it down. Then add enough flour to it so that when it is mixed together it looks like wet sand. On medium heat, keep stirring the roux to cook it. What you're trying to do is cook the flour taste out of the roux. There are different levels of how dark you can make a roux. Light or "blond" is when you cook it to a very light golden color. At this point the roux won't taste like flour and won't understand blond jokes. When you cook it further to a medium dark color (some people call it "peanut butter" roux or just "medium"), it will start to smell a bit nutty and a little like popcorn popping. This adds some extra depth to the flavor of the sauce so its ideal for brown sauces or soups. Last but not least is dark or sometimes "black" roux. To achieve a true black roux you have to use really low heat to keep it from burning and take it off the heat just before it is completely dark. Also, you'll need to use a vegetable oil instead of butter because oil has a higher "smoke point," which is fancy talk for "it can reach a higher temperature before it burns and pisses you off." Black roux is commonly used in creole soups and stews, but it doesn't thicken as well as a blond or medium roux.
In all of the roux research I've been internet-ing, so many references are made to Cajun and Creole cooking that its origin most likely comes from France, but has been adapted to American Southern French cooking. In fact the first step in so many Creole recipes is "First, you make a roux."
So, now that you know what your different roux are and how to make them, lets talk storage. I like to a make a big batch of roux and keep it in the freezer for whenever I need it. It will keep well in an air tight container for a good 4-5 months in the freezer, or for about 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. When I had a little hotel kitchen where I make gravy every day, I just kept a quart sized container of roux in the refrigerator and used what I needed from that. And if you're not sure if its gone bad or not, please use your common sense. If it smells gross, throw it away. I'm always surprised at how many people ask me "This smells bad. Is it still good?" In Cajun, that would make you a "couyon," or a "stupid person."