First let’s talk about what a roux is. A roux is a cooked mixture of fat and flour that is traditionally used as a thickener in sauces, and for Cajun cuisine is the base for many dishes, most notably gumbo. The typical fats used in a roux are butter or oil. In the world of rouxs there are four different varieties: white, blonde, caramel brown and dark brown (chocolate brown as my Cajun mother in law calls it. These different varieties are achieved by how long the roux is cooked. A white roux is not cooked very long and a dark brown roux is cooked the longest. A blonde roux is most commonly used to thicken sauces, soups, chowders and gravies. The fat used for lighter colored rouxs is typically butter. For the darker rouxs, vegetable oil is used as the fat, and that will be what I walk you through in the steps to follow.
I’m thoroughly convinced that there was an unspoken prerequisite to being accepted by my husband’s family by my ability to make a roux. Joey and I were still dating long distance when I first decided to tackle making Cajun dishes. With a culinary background, honestly I was trying to impress him, hell who am I kidding, I was really trying to impress his momma! In true Jaime fashion, I couldn’t take on a simple dish, I had to take on gumbo, which meant I had to make a roux! I began reading everything I could online and in cook books and then finally caved in and chatted with Joey’s mom, where the chocolate brown description comes from. It’s important to note that I had only heard of authentic Cajun cuisine after a failed attempt to experience gumbo, red beans and rice and jambalaya at a local Richmond restaurant. I was so excited I sent pictures to Joey and his mom. Both of their responses to the pictures I sent were of confusion and disgust...I believe Joey’s mom even dropped the F-bomb expletive! So since I was thousands of miles away from Louisiana here in Virginia, I had no other choice but to learn on my own and test the waters and seemed to nail it every time. What I can say is with Cajun food you have to have extreme patience and time.
The key to an authentic chocolate brown, Southern Louisiana Roux roux is low and slow! Additionally, having the proper cooking utensils is important. Gumbos or stews are cooked in cast iron dutch ovens, or more traditionally in an oval Magnalite pot. Magnalite pots have a denser base and thinner sides, allowing for more even cooking. In Cajun culture there pots are typically passed on through the family and are well seasoned with love. Word of caution though for using a Magnalite pot, the handles are integrated into the pot and can get extremely hot! The last key kitchen tool is a flat surfaced wooden spoon/spatula otherwise called a roux or gumbo spoon. A flat surface spoon/spoon allows you to scrape the bottom of the pot easier during the cooking process. I’ve tried a number of gumbo spoons and my favorite one I received as a Christmas gift from my mother in law is the PI-YAHHHHH!! Bamboo Roux Spoon/Spatula from the Cajun Ninja.
Ok, let’s get to it! Place the pot of your choice on the stove and crank up the heat to a medium-low setting. You’ll need ¾ cup of vegetable oil and 1 cup of all purpose flour - that’s it! Drop those two ingredients into the pot and get to stirring! At first the consistency will be clumpy, just keep stirring, scraping the bottom of the pot continually. Remember I mentioned patience, low and slow? Yeah, I’m going to say that a few more times...you CANNOT rush this! The Cajun ancestors will haunt you with a burnt taste that will last for days if you try to rush it by turning up the heat or not stirring constantly!
It can take anywhere between one hour to an hour and a half to achieve a silky chocolate brown color, so you want to make sure that you have enough time in your day to make a dish that requires a roux as its base. As the roux cooks it’ll start to brown. It will first start off as a blonde color, to a light brown and then to a caramel color. This is the stage where I get anxious and really want the crazy stirring to end, but I hear my mother in law tell me, “keep going, you’re almost there!” This is the critical point in the roux making process and where stirring is most important. Once you’ve gotten to the chocolate brown stage (almost black but not burned) you’ve made it and you’re ready to move on to the next step in any Cajun recipe requiring a roux as its base!
Now that you can make a roux, check back later for authentic Cajun recipes from my husband’s family.