The Roux and You
Making an oil roux can be daunting, but every gumbo lives and dies with its first step: the roux.
This past Mardi Gras we set off down 9th Avenue for supplies to celebrate The Big Easy with a chicken and sausage gumbo. @Esposito's we snagged smoked Andouille and mixed it up a little with Jamaican Jerk Sausage.
For this gumbo -- made Ash Wednesday as we had other consuming priorities Tuesday -- we used equal parts vegetable oil and flour at a medium heat, stirring consistently for 25 minutes (it seems longer). The roux came out great. But how did I (Kim), a man with little experience, manage to perfect this technique?
Hardware and Hips!
By hardware I mean the pan you use. You don't have to break the bank, but this is not time to pinch pennies, either. You really need a good piece of equipment. My first good roux came from a cast iron skillet. These are excellent to have and aren't too expensive, but they need consistent care.
On Wednesday, I used a Le Creuset Dutch oven. If it's big enough, like ours, it that can be used to cook the entire gumbo, and then serve it without using another dish. The secret to the Le Creuset pans is that it distributes a consistent heat. That helps as your stirring a large bottom surface (no reference to mine) that you want to cook all at once to make a smooth roux.
But as the clock ticked down, my roux wasn't solidifying, let alone getting to a nice chocolate brown and I started to worry. Then I realized that I was stirring too fast. Use a nice, slower, steady stirring technique.
A hula-hoop movement of the hips actually helps alot!
Roux (Back in) the Day
My (Sharon's) grandmother didn't cook much! She had an ulcer and her doctor advised her to eat plain food. But, in her retirement she started to make Italian and French dishes. I learned to make a roux standing at the stove next to her.
She was a huge fan of fish in white sauce, which I later recognized as bechamel. The thing about learning as a kid is that you get a sense for it. You know what it should look like and how to control the viscosity.
When you start cooking with another person, it's tough to communicate with them about how to make something you never really talked about. Suddenly, you don't have a vocabulary.
It's a wrench to move from one style to another.
Years later I made enchiladas with my mom and she instinctively knew how to made the béchamel sauce. Makes you think about the meaning of family and how strong the connections can be.
Coming out of the idyllic setting of a family kitchen, grandmother standing at a stove and changing your style so that other people can participate seems counterintuitive, but it's very rewarding.