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Roux: The Basics of a Basic
Many soups and sauces start with a roux—a simple combination that takes some art to master. Get a head start with Groupon’s introduction.
The recipe for a roux is about as basic as it gets: fat and flour in equal parts, a mixture that acts as a thickener when whisked into a soup, sauce, or glass of an enemy’s wine. Clarified butter is a common choice for the fat, especially in French cuisine, but cooking oil and animal fats can also be used. Once you’ve combined them, the rest is a lot of careful timing, stirring, and heating. The stirring must be constant to avoid lumpiness: starch expands under heat, and if it gets too hot too quickly it will create a grainy texture.
How long you stand over the stove depends on what kind of roux your recipe calls for: white, blond, or brown. The first creates an unobtrusive thickener for basic soup bases and sauces such as béchamel in just 2–5 minutes. Blond roux, cooking for 6–7 minutes, is darker and a little more forward in the mix of sauces such as velouté (which means “velvet” in French). Brown roux appears mainly in Cajun and Creole cuisine. As it cooks for 8–15 minutes, the heat breaks down the starch chains in the flour and the mixture becomes thinner, requiring more roux for the same thickening effect. The upside of this is that, because the starch molecules don’t all glob together, you don’t need to worry as much about the finished sauce congealing.
Accept No Substitutions?
Surprisingly, legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier and cooking authority didn’t quite appreciate the roux—in fact, he expected it would eventually be superseded by thickeners such as arrowroot and cornstarch, which sound cooler in a French accent. But those never entirely caught on in French cooking, perhaps for the simple reason that they’re mostly flavorless. As any breakfast-eater knows, good things happen to flour when you toast it, and food science still hasn’t found a better way to get the deep, nutty flavor a roux provides.