A perfect roux is the building block and most important aspect of most cajun dishes. A roux is simply a mixture of some sort of oil with some type of thickener. The word itself means "to stir" (or so I have been told by my Cajun family). The desired end-product will determine what type of roux you start off with. For example, a creamy alfredo sauce will have an entirely different roux than a dark gumbo.
The first thing to consider is what type of dish you are making. If you are making a creamy or cheesy dish, you will use butter. If you are making a more savory (dark) roux, you will use regular cooking oil. For the thickener, I always use plain old flour. Some people use corn starch but I have never even tried it since flour is always on hand and its easy to work with. The next thing to factor in is how dark you want your roux to be. Your roux is graded by coffee color. Lightest would be a cafe au lait and darkest would be a cup of coffee with a hint of 1/2&1/2 (or milk).
I very rarely measure when I'm using oil to start a roux with. If I had to guess, I would say 1/2 a cup. When making a butter roux, I typically start with 2 sticks of salted, sweet cream (real) butter. You want to use real oil and real butter. Diet or low-calorie ingredients do not make a good roux. You are creating food to savor, its a treat!
Step 1: Heat your oil or melt your butter on medium-low heat
Step 2: Add flour, one tablespoon at a time. You want to slowly add your flour until you get the desired consistency. The more flour you add, the more liquid you will add later. For a thick dish (like etouffe), your roux will have a high flour to liquid (added later) ratio. For a thinner dish (like gumbo or stew), you will have a low flor to liquid ratio. Your roux should be about the consistency of soup.
Step 3: Stir, stir, stir. This is all done on medium-low heat. On my electric range, "4" is where I keep mine set (5 is medium). You want to use a flat wooden spoon to stir the roux with. I'm not sure what they are called but they come with most wooden utensil sets. You will be stirring almost constantly and will stop once you have reached your desired color. As a general rule, your end product will be 1-2 shades lighter once you add water and a lot lighter if you are adding milk.
Step 4: Add your liquid. That's it! You are done!
If you are making a butter roux and it has reached its perfect color (usually a cafe au lait or coffee with cream color), you can add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep the butter roux from getting any darker. This will allow you time to add other ingredients and the olive oil gives a great flavor to most any dish.
For gumbo and stew, add your onions and bellpeppers when your roux is almost as dark as you'd like it to be and let them start to cook while still darkening your roux. This adds a lot of flavor to your final dish.
Once your roux is done, just add the liquid (water, milk, tomato sauce), meat and spices and you have the backbone to just about anything you'd like to cook. Have fun trying different meats and sauces.
Don't rush it! A good dark roux will have you stirring for half an hour or more. Its worth it!
Bonus Crawfish Etoufee Recipe
This recipe has been handed down for generations in my family.
- 2 sticks of real butter
- Flour (all purpose or whatever you have on hand)
- Dash of olive oil
- One onion minced (or chopped finely in a processor)
- One bellpepper diced
- 2 cloves of garlic minced (or one tablespoon of pre-minced garlic)
- 1 lb Louisiana crawfish tail meat (yes, it HAS to be from Louisiana. Imported Asian crawfish does NOT taste the same)
- Seasonings (salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, curry)
1. Melt butter in a deep fry pan on medium low. Once butter is melted and heated up, slowly add flour, one tablespoon at a time. Mix in the flour as you are adding it until you have a thick soupy consistency. Once this heats up, it will thin out.
2. Stir, stir stir until roux reaches a coffee with cream color. This usually takes 10-15 minutes. You want to stir once every minute or so. If your roux is sticking to the bottom of your pan, the heat is too high.
3. Add bellpeppers and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Your roux with thicken up and clump up when you add the bellpeppers. This is normal. Don't freak out. Cook approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add onions. Cook until the onions are clear, approximately 10 minutes.
5. Add garlic. You may add more or less garlic according to your personal taste buds. I love garlic and it is very good for you so I am pretty liberal with it.
6. Add crawfish. Your crawfish most likely came frozen in a plastic bag. Do not throw that bag away yet! Add about a cup of water to the bag and swish it around to gather up all the juices and crawfish bits left in it. Add the water to the crawfish mixture. If your crawfish didn't come from a frozen bag, add about a cup of water to the crawfish mixture. Mix well. You may find your etouffee is clumpy and too thick. If so, add more water until you reach a desired consistency (thick sauce).
7. Bring to a simmer. Using medium-low heat, allow your mixture to warm up and simmer slightly. You may find that you need to add more water to get a more creamy consistency. At this time, I will often add an additional 1/2 a stick of butter.
8. Add seasonings. Salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika to taste. I add a very small dash of curry powder. It creates a rich undertone that no one can quite put their finger on.
9. Serve over hot rice and enjoy with buttered bread.
- Prep/ cook time: 1 hour
- Serves 6-8
- Your family will be impressed, I promise!