With cooking shows featuring wide ranges of cuisine, many people have learned about roux. "Roux" is the French word for "brown," and describes its color. It is a base for gravies, soups, etouffee, gumbo and many other Cajun and French dishes. It serves as a thickener, binder and flavoring. Cajun cooking wouldn't taste right without the roux.
Any cook who has made gravy from pan drippings, flour and milk has made a sort of roux. The principles are very similar. With a roux, however, only flour and fat are used. Strange as it sounds, this combination actually does work.
The first rule of making one is patience. A roux can take a while — as long as an hour — to reach the desired stage of brown and not burned. Thus, the cook should have time to kill, and substitute arms for the constant stirring needed.
The second rule is to have a heavy pot and a wooden spoon. The pot can be a Dutch oven, deep iron skillet, or any pot that is heavy, conducts heat well and doesn't have any hot spots. A wooden spoon will not impart a metallic flavor, and so is ideal.
A basic roux can be started with 1 cup (120 g) of flour and 1 cup (240 mL) of vegetable oil. Pour the oil into the pot and heat. When the oil is just shy of smoking point, add the flour in gradually, stirring constantly. A whisk can be used to incorporate the flour into the oil. When the mixture is smooth, reduce the heat to medium and start stirring. Stir the mixture from the outside in and vice versa, to ensure even heating and browning.
The mixture will be pale at first, but as the flour browns, the roux will gradually turn the color of peanut butter. This is a light roux. When the mixture darkens to light brown, a medium roux is in the pot. When the mixture starts looking like glossy chocolate syrup, it has become a dark roux. When the mixture is done, the cook has two options: start adding cooking ingredients such as celery and onion, or take it completely off the heat. When adding celery and onion in particular, stand back from the pot. These wet vegetables will tend to make the mixture steam and pop, so be careful.
Cooking the roux slowly and evenly is a must to prevent burning. A burned roux will evacuate the house with its odor. It cannot be salvaged. The cook must start over.
Learning to cook a roux is not difficult. With patience, a cook can produce dishes worthy of the great chefs.