Roux, pronounced “rou” is one of the most useful techniques that culinary school has to offer. Learning how to master it will unlock the secret to pasta sauces, stews and soups. A roux is a way to introduce starch into a liquid in order to thicken it. This is the same concept as using cornstarch in pudding. The starch gelatinizes in the water portion of the milk, thickening it. In instant pudding the starch is pregelatinized (aka modified) and then dried for your convenience.
Roux is a way to pre-cook the starch so that it won’t clump in a sauce. This is the method to make a classic Bechamel or white sauce, brown gravy and gumbo. The method is to ‘cook’ the flour in a fat, traditionally clarified butter, then add a watery liquid such as milk, stock or wine, and bring to a simmer. The result is a silky smooth thickened sauce. There are a few reasons for going through the trouble of cooking the flour.
First and foremost, if you would add flour to lots of milk it would clump into little bubbles of raw flour. Distributing the flour in the butter prevents the eyes from forming.
Another way of doing this is called a beurre manie — raw flour in cold butter (or other fat) mixed into a paste. This can be added warm sauces to thicken them but it takes about an hour to fully cook the flour. It is commonly used for stews to thicken once it is cooking in a pot. It is easier to control the amount of thicking with this method and is one less step to take while assembling the stew. Now back to the roux.
The second reason for making a roux is that it cooks the flour. By precooking the starch before adding the watery milk or broth the raw starch flavor and texture are never present in the sauce. It makes putting the sauce together a quick process rather than one intended for a long haul.
Third reason for a roux is that you can add big flavor to your dish. Cooking the roux for a long time on low heat results in a deep toasted flavor that permeates your dish. In Louisiana style cooking a brick red roux is used for most applications. It can take 45 minutes to prepare properly. Its flavor is unique and permeates the food it is used in. Don’t be intimidated! It is two ingredients in a pot on the back burner for a while. Just dont forget it or you will get a black burnt roux which is not tasty. The darker the roux, the less thickening power of the roux but the more toasty flavor.
The first application of the roux we will introduce is a bechamel sauce. Bechamel is one of the five mother sauces in classic french cooking. This can then be transformed into countless other sauces. Some examples are Cheddar cheese sauce for Macaroni and cheese, Alfredo (cream) and so much more.
¼ cup oil or butter
¼ cup white flour
Melt butter in a saucepan until all the water sizzles out. Add the flour and mix with a whisk or wooden spoon. Cook on medium heat stirring constantly for 2-4 minutes. Then you are done. You have a white roux.
1 batch white roux
2 tsp salt
2-3 cups milk
Add salt and milk to the hot roux pot, whisk/stir as it comes to a boil. Using hot milk makes this process take little to no time.
1 batch Bechamel
1 cup milk
2+ shredded cheddar cheese
Add milk to the bechamel and bring to a simmer. This is to thin out the sauce since the cheese will rethicken it. Turn heat to low and add the cheese slowly stirring constantly. Start by adding a half cup of cheese at a time. Finish the last half cup in small pinches. DO NOT BRING THIS TO A BOIL. Boiling a cheese sauce can form clumps in the sauce making it feel gritty. Too thick? Add milk a quarter cup at a time. Too thin? Don’t worry the pasta you will put this on will absorb liquid tightening the sauce. Topp your favorite macaroni product for homemade Mac and Cheese.
Note! If you are preparing in advance under cook the pasta and prepare your sauce to be extra thin. The noodles will absorb water out of the sauce when reheated. This can even be frozen!
Mushroom Cream sauce
1 batch roux
1 shallot minced
2 cups milk
2 tsp salt
1 cup Shiitake mushrooms
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup parmesan cheese
Before adding the milk to make the bechame, sautee the minced shallots in the roux for 2-4 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the cheese. Bring to a simmer to thicken the sauce and cook the mushrooms. Reduce heat to low/off and add the parmesan cheese. Enjoy on your favorite pasta
All of us have had the juice from the bottom of your roasted chicken. Here is something awesome to do with it.
Gravy for a roast chicken
¼ cup oil (light olive oil, canola etc)
¼ cup flour
½ cup Chicken drippings (if you have more reduce the amount of stock)
1-2 cup chicken stock (from your homemade soup)
2 tsp salt
The same spices and herbs similar to how you made your chicken.
2 TBS Margarine (optional)
Prepare the roux just like you would for the bechamel except keep cooking the roux on medium low heat for an additional 5-10 minutes. This will toast the flour further creating brown flavors and decreasing the thickening power. Add the spices and herbs to the roux for the last minute of cooking to extract their flavor. Finish by adding the drippings, stock and bring to a simmer. The final step is called mounting with butter or margarine in this case. Add the vegetable butter to your hot sauce and whisk to incorporate. This final step makes the sauce have beautiful gloss and is optional. Serve on your poultry or on the side.