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VOL. 39 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 3, 2015

Thought you knew roux? It’s not so simple

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Not long ago I felt a close friend of mine needed some cheer, so I took her a bouquet of flowers as a little pick-me-up. She and her family have been going through some difficult medical issues lately and it just seemed to me she could use a bit of cheering.

Hubby and I carried the flowers over to her house, but when we walked out we had a pot of soup, some corn muffins and some white chocolate Macadamia Nut cookies in hand.

I’m not sure who cheered whom the most; however, I’m pretty sure I got the best end of the deal. She got flowers, I got dinner.

The soup she made was so yummy. When I asked for the recipe, I learned it is in our church recipe book, so I’m sharing with you.

This soup is hearty and filling, and it was raining on the night we ate it, which made it even more perfect. It has chicken and wild rice as the main ingredients, but it also has a roux for a base. It is kind of creole-tasting.

Roux (pronounced “roo”) is a thickening agent for soups and sauces with roots dating back more than 300 years in French cuisine.

Made by cooking a flour and oil paste until the raw flavor of the flour cooks out and the roux has achieved the desired color, a properly cooked roux imparts silky-smooth body and a nutty flavor while thickening soups and sauces.

A roux is made with equal parts cooked fat and flour. It’s used to thicken soups, stews and sauces. In the south (and particularly New Orleans), it’s used in gumbo and etouffee. You can use any kind of cooking oil, butter or bacon fat to make a roux. It just depends on what you are making and what kind of flavor you want to give your dish.

Roux is made with vegetable oil, olive oil or clarified butter. Since an oil-based roux will separate as the flour settles to the bottom, clarified butter is the preferred fat to use when making a roux for future use, as it will harden when refrigerated, trapping the flour in suspension.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

1 medium onion, diced
3-4 stalks celery, cut into 1” pieces
2 cups carrots, cut into 1” rounds
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1 red bell pepper, chopped
Small amount of butter or Olive Oil
3-4 cups cooked and chopped chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
1 box wild rice, cooked

Sauté vegetables in the butter or oil. Set aside.

Make a roux from the instructions above, making it the consistency and flavor desired. In a large pot, whisk roux into:
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups half-and-half

Stir until blended well. Add sautéed vegetables and chicken. Blend well. Bring to a low boil and simmer about 30 minutes. To serve, place a generous amount of wild rice in the bottom of a bowl. Ladle some hot soup on top. Serve with hot sourdough bread.

There are four varieties of roux: white, blond, brown and dark brown. The different colors are a result of how long the roux is cooked; white is cooked for the shortest time, while dark brown cooks the longest.

White and blond roux are the most common, used to thicken sauces, soups and chowders. Brown and dark brown roux have more flavor, but less thickening power than white or blond roux. These roux are primarily used in Cajun and Creole dishes.

1. Begin making the roux by melting 1 cup of clarified butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is hot enough that a pinch of flour sprinkled into it will slowly start to bubble, proceed to the next step.

2. Whisk 1-3/4 cups of flour into the clarified butter until a thick, rough paste forms. Whisk constantly while it bubbles over medium heat. As it cooks, the roux will become smooth and begin to thin.

3. The white stage is reached once the flour looses its raw smell, after about 5 minutes of cooking and stirring. Although slightly grainy in texture, it is much smoother than it was at the beginning. The mixture should be bubbling vigorously and the color a little paler than when the clarified butter and flour were first combined.

4. After about 20 minutes of continuous cooking and stirring, the roux will reach the blond stage. The bubbles are beginning to slow, and the aroma has taken on nuances of popcorn or toasted bread. The roux is now tan colored, very smooth, and thinner than it was at the white stage.

5. Brown roux will reach a peanut butter-brown color after approximately 35 minutes of cooking and stirring. Its aroma is more pronounced and sharper than the nutty nuances of blond roux. The roux is now thinner, and the bubbling has slowed even more.

6. Even darker than brown roux, the dark brown stage occurs after about 45 minutes of cooking, and is the color of melted milk chocolate. Its aroma will also mellow from the strong, roasted flavor of brown roux and will actually smell a little like chocolate. The roux is no longer bubbling, and is very thin.

Just remember to cook on medium heat and to keep stirring.

Kay Bona is an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at kay@dailydata.com.

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