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Making Roux - It's Easy-Peasy

Gravies and sauces thickened with starches, be they corn, potato, tapioca or arrowroot all leave me wanting.  While they can assist in producing a lower calorie and arguably more healthy gravy or sauce I usually leave them to others to serve.  I normally use flour and fat in a roux. I will use corn starch once in a while if I am rushed, or more often than not, when I'm lazy, and while I am chronically lazy, I am not a chronic corn starch user.  But starches do have their place, just not in the turkey, beef or pork gravy, and never, never, never, never in the gumbo.

For truly great gravies and sauces, the thickener and the substance that gives the sauce that wonderful silky texture is a flour based roux.  Now roux is another fancy French word used in cooking that translated means "reddish/brown" or simply "reddish". To make sexy sauces worthy of being food porn you need to learn to make a roux.  It is easy enough to do that even a dullard like me has been able to master it, more or less. So follow along please and don't move your lips as you read, it freaks me out...

I hope we can agree that roux is the building block of great sauces, the foreplay of the sauce if you will.  Not all sauces need to be thickened and if you have the time and all things required, (bones, vegetables, time, roasting oven) you can make a world class sauce by preparing a demi-glace and reducing it to thicken, then use it as a gravy, but it won't render enough for a family who likes to swim the potatoes in the gravy unless you make a huge batch, which is unlikely in a home kitchen.  Demi-glace as I know it is better tasting than thickened gravy I agree, but if the gravy is properly made, it only wins by a narrow margin.

Back to the roux. There are different stages of colour that occur when making your roux, from white, to blond, to dark chocolate brown, and all brownish shades in between.  Depending on the recipe or the sauce you are preparing the colour is very important as it adds a deeper and nuttier flavour to the sauce the darker it gets.

For thickening a chicken or turkey gravy I use a dark blond roux to a light brown colour because I don't like yellow or white gravy, too anaemic looking for my taste, so the roux gets a darkening treatment.

For pork I take the roux a little darker yet - to a medium brown colour and for beef I like a dark mahogany brown. For cheese sauces I will stick to a white roux because who the hell wants brown cheese sauce? Just the thought of a brown cheese sauce sets my swallower into caution mode. So blond roux it is.

From the white stage through to the dark brown stage, the roux will thicken any liquid or stock you use it in, however, the darker the roux the less thickening ability it has and you need to use more roux to achieve the consistency you need the darker it gets. Got it? No?  Okay...

2 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of fat will thicken 1 cup of stock when it is a blond roux.  To thicken one cup of stock with a very dark brown roux you may need to use 3 tablespoons of flour and 3 tablespoons of fat to achieve the same consistency as 2+2 in the blond variety. See, blond has more power than brunette, and all this time you may have questioned why blonds have more fun.  It's the power baby.  The Power.

There are as many opinions about the correct proportions of fat to flour as there are assholes offering opinions, and being yet another opinionated asshole, I will offer you mine, because, well, it is my blog after all. I use equal parts of fat to flour by volume. Not weight! The type of fat to use also gets the same assholes opining about fat type as they did on the flour/fat ratio and I prefer to use clarified butter and sometimes 50/50 clarified butter/grapeseed oil  and on the odd occasion I will use 100% grapeseed or canola oil, depends how I’m feeling at that moment and if I have any clarified butter in the fridge.

When making gravy I will incorporate the fat from the bird or roast and top up with butter/oil to get to the flour/fat equal parts ratio I need. I never use olive oil in a roux, or rather I did once and never again. Too olivy for my liking and other than a tomato based sauce I seldom use it for cooking, but I do love grapeseed oil however.

When using butter remember or be reminded if you have forgotten, or pay attention if you did not know, that not all butter is created equal. Butter whether salted or unsalted can vary greatly in the amount of milk solids it contains and milk solids contain water and water and flour can mean lumps and lumps in gravy are not a good thing.

Depending on the dairy that made the butter, you can get inconsistent results if you don't clarify the butter, so to clarify, you need to clarify your butter for the best and most consistent result. Once the butter is clarified it will be useful in many different things and my all time favourite use for clarified butter is to put it on popcorn, but that topic will be for a different blog posting. If you don't know how to clarify butter or are afraid of trying call me and I will offer you support and counsel as you walk through that clarifying process. For a fee of course, cash or trade, you choose...

One could argue on and on about fat to use and the fat/flour ratio and if settled you end up arguing about the best flour type to use.  I use all purpose flour, but some will suggest that bread flour or a high gluten flour like a Tipo 00 is best, even the celiacs chime in about using rice flour and the vegans no doubt have an opinion too, but who frigging cares what they think. Use all purpose flour or rice flour for the gluten free variety if necessary and enjoy. It really does work well.  BUT the flour issue is not settled yet. Alas.

When using a ratio of 50/50 by volume of fat to flour it works well for the most part BUT depending on how compact the flour is it can alter the amount of oil needed.  By compact I mean has it settled and now a cup of compacted flour will weigh more than a cup of sifted flour.  Understand what I am talking 'bout Willis?

If you take a cup of flour and press down on it with the back of a spoon it will decrease in volume like a Johnson in an ice bath, likewise, simply vibrating the container will cause the volume to contract, so here is the issue with volume measurement with dry ingredients, they can vary considerably in a weight/volume comparison (I won't even begin to talk about moisture content from the surround air, I see you fading as I type this already). Is that "flour package" a grower or a show'er so to speak?

The fix is to be ready to add a bit of oil a little at a time as you incorporate the ingredients to ensure it is not too dry, but not a liquid slurry either.  When mixed in the pan being cooked up, it should have a cookie dough-like (paste) consistency but there is a trick to that as well.  If I'm making a roux and want to get it to chocolate brown colour to use in a gumbo I will add more fat to get it to be a wet roux (slack roux) as that allows it to cover the bottom of the pot easily as I stir it.  Once it has turned close to the colour I want I will add a bit of uncooked flour to get it to the cookie dough/paste-like stage  and then cook it until it has reached the final colour I seek.

I do this because as I said previously, the darker the colour of the roux the less able it is to thicken the liquid, so freshly added flour acts like adding a bit of blond roux, and with it wet as I said, it is easier to mix in the pot when needing to cook for a longer period of time.  You do need to know that you should not add the liquid to a wet or slack roux because it could "break" and at that point you end up with a BP like oil slick on your creation and it will not thicken properly either. Like all things from riding a bike to making love, making roux is no exception; practice makes perfect.  Faaaaasterrrrrr.  Looooongerrrrrr.  Haaaaaarderrrrrrr. Roux me baby.  Just roux me.....

So what do we have so far?

-clarified butter
-olive oil
-grapeseed oil
-canola oil
-mixture of all the above

-all purpose

Fat-Flour Ratio:
-50/50 by volume
-The “this is too complicated let's order take-out ratio” (a very popular one in many homes)

Using my "recipe" for each cup of liquid to be thickened use 2 tablespoons each of fat and flour.  Place in a shallow flat bottom pan and over medium heat, whisk together and continue stirring until the colour has reached the desired tone for your dish. Match the roux colour to the colour of the intended base liquid.  Kind of a carpet matching the drapes if you will.

Once the desired colour has been achieved, remove from heat and let cool slightly before adding liquid.  Do not use hot roux as it can break and not blend well and all diners will be disappointed if that happens because flour lumps are nasty, just plain nasty. The roux can be cold to warm, but never hot.  I will often make a large batch of roux and place any excess in the fridge to use at a later date.  It keeps for a week or so and comes in very handy when cooking after work when time is at a premium.

I am confident that I have confused you enough to toss another challenge at you and that would be to use your new-found roux making skill in the creation and enjoyment of a wonderful gumbo.  One of my all-time favourite comfort foods. The making of this wonder of nature is reason enough alone to learn to make roux, not to mention all the gravies you can excel at as well once you are a Roux master.

The recipe for my Gumbo follows on a seperate posting...

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