Roux ain't scary. Anyone with a heat source, some fat and some flour can make this classic French cuisine base for everything from soups to souffles. With varying degrees of color, flavor, and thickening power, the roux is a versatile and tasty way to build a dish from the ground up. For the purposes of this article, we will use the terminology "fat" as a catchall for everything from butter, to oils, to rendered fats. All types of fats can be used successfully to make a roux, albeit with different flavor characteristics. However, the starch must be some type of dry flour. Today, you're going to make a simple roux, using butter and flour. The ratio of fat to flour will always be 1:1, but the quantities can be increased or decreased as needed.
- Get your ingredients and equipment ready: The French idea of mise en place (setting in place) is essential to all forms of cooking. It's much easier to succeed in the kitchen if you can focus on the task at hand rather than searching around for measuring cups and extra flour. Get your ingredients set before you even turn the stove on. For a roux, we always use equal parts of fat and flour, so go get this stuff ready:
- Four (4) ounces all-purpose flour
- One half (1/2) cup butter (that's 8 tablespoons or 1 stick)
- Small- to medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, not teflon-coated
- Wire whip or whisk
- Wooden spoon or silicone spatula
- Measure the flour: Measure out 4 ounces of flour by weight. It's important that the flour be weighed and not measured using a nested or liquid measuring cup. Weight is a true measurement of mass, while nested and liquid containers only measure volume. You could cram 6 ounces of flour into a half cup measuring cup but 4 ounces of flour will always be 4 ounces if you weigh it.
- Melt the fat: Using a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 1/2 cup of butter over medium heat. You can use either salted or unsalted butter. The salt content of the butter is a flavor component in a roux, not a leavener as it is in baking. If you use a liquid fat, such as a rendered animal fat or vegetable oil, heat it until it just starts to shimmer but not smoke.
- Add the flour: Go ahead and gradually add your weighed flour into the sauce pan and start whisking until it incorporates fully and no lumps remain. For the remainder of your stirring adventure, it's best to use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
- Develop the roux: Now we play the waiting game. Keep the heat at or below medium and watch it closely. It's essential that you continue to stir it constantly, making sure to reach all over the bottom of the pan, until the roux reaches the desired color. Be aware of the color of the roux at all times, and be careful to not let it scorch. The color should remain consistent and constant, without any trace of black. If you do get specs of black, throw it away and start over.
- Identify your roux: There are 4 or 5 different stages of a roux. Cooking times for a roux can vary, depending on the type and amount of roux you're trying to make. Different roux are dictated by the amount of time they spend in the pan and categorized by their color. As your roux gets darker, it gains flavor and color but loses some of its thickening power. The stages of roux are as follows:
- White (Light) Roux: Usually takes 5-15 minutes to develop. This roux is useful for thickening sauces, soups and about a million other dishes that seem too thin. Also, it is an ingredient in some pastries and entrees.
- Light Brown (Peanut Butter) Roux: This roux can take up to 30 minutes to fully develop and has the color of peanut butter.
- Medium Brown Roux: If you cook the light brown roux for an additional 10 to 20 minutes or so, you'll get a medium brown roux that should be the color of a copper pot.
- Dark Brown (Chocolate) Roux: When you cook the medium brown roux another 10-20 minutes, you'll end up with a dark brown roux the color of dark chocolate.
- Brick Roux: This roux is the final stage before complete roux failure. It is reddish in color and nutty to the nose. This roux has almost no thickening properties and is used strictly for flavor or as the base of a dish. The brick roux is the trickiest roux of all because it literally walks the tight rope between rich, delicious flavor and charred, wretched blackness.
Now that you have the roux, you have the start of something beautiful! In addition to the array of Creole and Cajun dishes, such as gumbo, etouffees, and sauce piquantes that utilize roux, you have a versatile thickener for gravies and sauces. What's better, if you can get the brick roux just right, you'll have a genuine flavor component and not just a binder that holds everything together.