Roux, The plot thickens

You have made a great stock, now it is time to turn it into a sauce.  This one falls in the category of Things I take for granted. There are a few ways to thicken sauces, roux, starches, slurry, starches, and arrowroot to say a few.  Today, we are going to concentrate on roux because it is the best way to thicken and it can actually bring some flavor to the party, and its all about the party!

(Pronounced ROO)  You can use most of the methods to thicken later in the cooking process, but with a roux, you have to plan a little bit ahead.  A roux usually begins at the beginning of the cooking of the sauce, and perhaps you have made it and not even realized it.  If a recipe calls for you to sauté some onions in some butter, then add some flour, well, you have made a roux!

The important thing to know about roux, is that it uses flour.  Unlike a slurry (water and flour) you have the opportunity to cook off the flavor of the flour.  How long you cook the roux will determine when the flour cooks out, and when the flavor will begin to be added.

It is very basic, and simple.  A basic roux is one to one.  That is to say that one tablespoon of flour and one table spoon of butter.  Yep, that’s all it takes.  That can be by volume or by weight too, by the way.

First you want to add the butter and melt it over a medium heat.  Don’t melt it over too high a flame or you will burn the butter solids, and that’s just not good.  This is the point you could add items to saute, say onions, garlic, etc…  After the butter is melted, you can add in your flour, but be sure to stir constantly and make sure to break up any lumps.

Continue to stir occasionally and cook to change color and flavor.  Usually, for most purposes, one does best with a blonde roux, which is cooked for about 2 minutes.  This will cook off the flour flavor.  After that you are ready to go!

When you use this will depend on the way you are making your sauce.  In the case of mose sauces, the blond version is fine.  However, if you are making a Jambalaya, or a rich brown sauce, you want to cook it to a much deeper stage.  It is important to note that the longer you cook a roux, the less thickening power it will have.

The stages of roux are pretty easy to identify, and let’s go through them.  For these examples I used 3 tablespoons of flour and butter.  It is good for thickening about 2 cups of stock.

Roux Stages

The LIGHT stage is achieved very quickly, and it is usually reached in about 30 seconds, after the flour has been incorporated.  The flavor of the flour is not typically cooked out yet.

A light roux is good for a Bechemel (a cream sauce), but be sure to cook it slow and low to cook out the flavor, but bring the thickness goodness.

The BLONDE stage is a carmel color, and is usually reached after about 2 minutes.  This is the most common stage, for your average sauces.  Say a Veloute or a basic gravy.

The MEDIUM is a shade darker than the blond, and usually not used too often.  It is great if you want to add a bit of darker color to a basic gravy.

The CHOCOLATE will actually be the darkest before the roux is pretty much useless.  (there is a darker, Brick stage, but honestly, the chocolate stage is just fine for 99% of your needs).  It will have a light nutty scent to it and be, obviously, chocolate in color.

You have some choices to add coloring when you make, say, a beef gravy.  They could be a “flavoring agent” like Kitchen Bouquet or something similar.  By using a dark roux like this, you will bring a nice richness to the flavor, and a rich color to your sauce.  It can take like 4 minutes or so to reach this color.

Well, it is pretty simple at this point.  Make sure that you always add a hot liquid to a roux.  You want to also make sure to stir it a lot when you add in the liquid so that it will not turn into lumps, certainly better in mashed potatoes than in a sauce or gravy!

I hope I have inspired you to change from using mom’s version of a slurry and to try the method of a roux.  It is a basic of cooking that will serve you for years.

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