Roux—a simple mixture of equal parts fat and flour—is the base of so many beloved dishes, from comfort food staples like homemade gravy and rich cheese sauce, to New Orleans icons and Mardi Gras favorites gumbo and étouffée. It’s incredibly easy to make roux, but many people fear it, or at least find it intimidating. If you’re one of them, read on to learn how to make an easy roux.
Determine Which Shade You Want
First off, we should note that there are different types or shades of roux—from white to blond to dark chocolate—which are achieved simply by adjusting the cooking time. The longer you cook it, the darker roux gets; and the darker it gets, the deeper and more complex it tastes, but it also loses its power to thicken sauces. This is why white or blond roux, which are only cooked for a few minutes (to get rid of the raw taste of the flour and lend just a little toasty flavor), are used to make creamy sauces and gravies that need to thicken up a bit, while brown roux, prized for its nuanced, nutty depth of flavor more than its (diminished) thickening power, is best for gumbos and étouffées.
The time it takes to cook your roux will vary depending not only on how brave you are with the heat, but how big your pot or pan is, and how much roux you’re making in it, but plan on just a few minutes for white, up to 10-12 minutes for blond, anywhere from 15-20 for brown, and up to 30 minutes or more for the darkest roux. You’ll know when it’s done by simply looking at the color. White roux actually looks more blond than so-called “blond roux,” which is a shade more akin to peanut butter. After that, “brown roux” approximates the color of milk chocolate, while “dark brown roux” recalls semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. You can stop anywhere in between those general shades, depending on what you personally prefer. The darker you go, the easier it is to go a hair too far and end up with something a bit more bitter than you want.
Le Creuset Signature Round Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven (7.25 Quart), $399.95 at Sur la Table
A Dutch oven is great for making roux, but ideally, it will have a white enameled interior so you can better judge the color of your roux.
Choose Your Fat (and Flour)
While roux is most commonly made with butter and flour, it can also be made with other fats—in Cajun cooking, it’s often vegetable oil, and vegan cooks regularly use coconut oil or vegan margarine. You can even use bacon fat or chicken fat (of course, they’ll add their own particular flavor to the dish). If sticking with butter, clarified butter is considered the best, but not at all necessary for a successful roux.
For flour, all-purpose is totally fine, although some people prefer cake or pastry flour for their higher starch content (it’s the starch that thickens things). It is possible to make gluten-free roux, but choose your gluten-free flour wisely. According to Curious Coconut, your best bets for making roux are cassava and plantain flour, and you will need a bit more of them than the traditional half-and-half measurement of flour to fat. (Actually, many cooks prefer a little extra conventional flour too, so feel free to experiment with the ratio.)
Still, the technique remains the same. Just don’t be afraid to turn up the heat, and don’t stop stirring!
- A heavy-bottomed pot or pan large enough to hold whatever you’re making
- A balloon whisk, and/or a silicone spatula or wooden spoon
- Equal parts fat and flour
OXO Good Grips Balloon Whisk, $9.99 on Amazon
You can always start out with a whisk to prevent lumps, then switch to a spoon or spatula if you prefer.
How to Make Roux:
1. Place a heavy-bottomed pan or pot over medium-high heat. Let it heat up before you add your fat, whether butter or oil. Heat the fat until it melts and just starts to smoke.
2. Add the flour to the fat and whisk it in (or stir it in with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula) until fully incorporated. Then keep whisking or stirring, being sure not to neglect the edges of the pan, and don’t stop until you reach your desired shade. The mixture will bubble at first, but then it will calm down and begin to toast. As long you keep it moving in the pan, slowly but surely, the fat-flour mixture will change color. It will go from the white to pale blond to peanut butter-colored range to milk chocolate, and eventually progress to dark chocolate. The color change should be uniform, though—if you get darker speckles showing up in your roux instead of an even browning occurring, you’ll want to start over.
3. When the roux is the color you want it to be, add the next recipe ingredients to the pan. This may be diced vegetables (like the “holy trinity” of onions, celery, and bell pepper) if you’re making gumbo, or warm milk if you’re making a cheese sauce. Whatever ingredient you add will stop the roux from cooking further, but if it’s a liquid you’re adding, you’ll have to do it much more carefully. Rather than just dumping it all into the pot and stirring, make sure the liquid is warm, whisk in a small amount to start and keep whisking to ensure everything is smooth, then slowly whisk in the remainder (otherwise, lumps and graininess are apt to happen). If you’re making gumbo, Louisiana food authority Poppy Tooker has something to say about those aforementioned vegetables; scroll down for her advice. In any case, be sure to prep these next-step ingredients in advance—that means before you even start your roux.
Tips and Tricks
Back in 2007, when the original version of this piece was written, Lessley Anderson wrote that roux “has the reputation of being tricky because people either stop stirring it or do the opposite: They’re so worried about it burning that they don’t turn the heat up high enough, and it never browns. If you keep the pan nice and hot and don’t stop stirring, you will not have a problem.
Roux doesn’t gain anything from slow cooking, and some people make it in as few as five minutes by turning the heat way up and stirring at a frenzied pace. However, this is not for the faint of heart. ‘It’s too tense a process for my nerves. Also, roux that splashes on your skin goes all the way to the bone,’ says New Orleans cookbook writer and radio host Tom Fitzmorris.
More likely your roux will take 25 to 40 minutes to turn chocolate brown. Richard Stewart, owner and chef at the Gumbo Shop in New Orleans [in 2007], recommends making and burning a ‘sacrificial roux’ so that you’ll know what failure looks like. (Let it cool before you dump it in the trash!)”
Still sound advice, and here’s a little more:
For dark chocolate roux, you may wish to use an oil with a high smoke point instead of (or in addition to) butter since the longer cooking time for this roux means there’s a greater chance the fat could burn. And if you plan on using high heat, oil is also your best bet.
If you like to plan ahead, you can make a larger batch of roux and then store it in the fridge or freezer for quite a while.
Shortcuts and Alternative Methods
Some cooks like to toast their flour in the oven, which can take a longer time, but only requires occasional stirring, and makes the eventual whisking-in-the-pan process shorter. Chowhound member MakingSense reported in 2009 that they used a half sheet pan to toast five pounds of flour at a time in a convection oven, stirring every 20-30 minutes for a full two hours. “Five pounds lasts a pretty good while and saves LOADS of time on a daily basis.” And boadwee testified that mixing oil and flour in a preheated cast iron vessel before baking it for an hour and a half, stirring every 15 minutes, makes “the darkest, most delicious roux you’ve ever made.”
Some people will even make roux in the microwave.
And of course, you can also buy both powdered roux shortcuts and fully prepared roux.
Savoie's Old Fashioned Dark Roux, $11.50 on Amazon
If you're into shortcuts, plenty of people swear by this brand of jarred roux.
Tony Chachere's Creole Instant Roux Mix, $5.37 at Walmart
Another near-instant option.
But, as Lessley wrote, and as we still have to agree with, “you can’t beat the nutty aroma of home-cooked roux, or the adrenaline high that comes from successfully not burning it.”
Recipes Using Roux
Now that you know what to do when it comes to making roux, see what else you can make with it.
A butter-and-flour white roux is the base of three French “mother sauces”—including béchamel, which in turn is the basis of good old American mac and cheese sauce. Adding grated gruyere to the béchamel makes it mornay sauce, but adding cheddar makes it the gooey, noodle-coating goodness you’ve probably loved since you were a kid. Get our Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe.
You’re still technically making roux here, although (as is the case with many other types of gravy), you’re sauteing vegetables in the butter (shallots, here) before sprinkling in the flour and cooking it to remove the raw taste. It’s so much easier—and tastier—than buying a jar of gravy for your next pot of mashed potatoes! Get our Basic Chicken Gravy recipe.
This is a little more involved, but only because you’re simmering short ribs for three hours to ultra-tender perfection. Meanwhile, you make a quick white roux, which you later whisk into a rich, beefy gravy for the best plate of poutine you’ve ever had. But for a quicker fix, just use good-quality canned beef broth to make the homemade gravy, and skip the actual shreds of meat. Get our Poutine with Beef Gravy recipe.
Here’s where a long-cooked dark brown (or brick) roux really shines. Cook your oil-based roux for up to half an hour to a dark chocolate shade that will add loads of nutty, slightly smoky, deliciously complex flavor to this classic chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. Get our Chicken and Andouille Gumbo recipe.
On the other hand, this easy shrimp gumbo is unorthodox in many respects: it starts with toasting flour in the oven, then whisking it into chicken stock for a roux of sorts; a true Louisianan might denounce it, but it will thicken and add flavor to all the other ingredients as they slow cook in the Crock-Pot, so it’s a trick well worth trying. Get our Slow Cooker Shrimp Gumbo recipe.
This particular recipe uses both butter and canola oil for the fat component of the roux, which cooks for about 12 minutes before the holy trinity comes into play and the rest of the ingredients are added. If you’d like a deeper flavor, you can keep cooking the roux to the dark brown stage first; basically…you do roux. Get the Shrimp Étouffée recipe.
Some cream gravies rely only on actual heavy cream itself to thicken them, but this one is made from whole milk that’s enriched with a roux—which is made from the meaty oil in which you cook the chicken fried steaks themselves (a similar trick to the one we use in our Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Cream Gravy recipe). Get our Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy recipe.
Related Video: Don’t Ruin Your Roux
The original version of this post was published in 2007. It has been updated with new text, images, and links.