The Language of Food: Roux
Those of you from Louisiana can probably move on to another lesson now because you already know this. Or maybe not. If you have ever made gumbo, etouffe, or even plain old pan gravy, then you have probably made a roux and you didn't even realize it.
A roux (pronounced "rue") is a mixture of flour and fat. That is the basic definition. Right now is the best time of the year to visit the land of the roux, since roux is the basis of all holiday gravy recipes, whether you know it or not. Most basic rouxs are equal parts of butter and flour. If you happen to have milk allergies (god help you), then vegetable or canola oil will be just fine for the fat.
When my mother makes a pan gravy for chicken fried steak, she usually starts with about 2 tablespoon of pan drippings and whisks in about 2-3 tablespoons of flour. Stirring constantly, the mixture quickly thickens. Finally, the milk and other ingredients are added to finish off the gravy.
In cajun cooking, many rouxs are cooked beyond a few minutes. With slow heating and occasional stirring, that flour and fat combination can be taken to a light golden color all the way to a dark coffee or chocolate hue that imbibes flavors of nuts and toast. The best roux-masters in Louisiana can differentiate between 18-20 different colors and flavors of roux, all separate in flavor and color.
On the other end of the culinary spectrum, we can turn our attention to the Bechamel sauce. This is a French sauce in origin, but it is rooted in roux. (say that twice.) Bechamel sauce starts with a roux ... equal parts butter and flour. Then stir in the milk. Call me crazy, but that's gravy.
And it all starts with roux.
Roux Do's and Don'ts:
1. Do monitor your roux at all times. An unwatched roux is carbon.