Making Roux

A nutty-flavored thickener used in New Orleans–style dishes

By Lessley Anderson

Roux is not hard to make. I repeat: Roux is not hard to make. A tasty, nutty-flavored thickener used in gumbo and several other New Orleans–style dishes, like crawfish étouffée, it’s made by heating equal parts fat (usually vegetable oil) and flour, and browning the mixture on the stove. For gumbo,

the roux is typically cooked until it’s the color of dark chocolate: Although darker roux thickens less than lighter, it is richer tasting.

When making roux, you must stir it constantly or it will burn. It 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, 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!)

Flour and fat …

peanut butter color …

to milk chocolate …

to dark chocolate

Pay close attention: When you first stir the flour into the oil, it will bubble as it releases its moisture. When it stops bubbling it will begin to toast as you stir, first turning the color of peanut butter, then the color of milk chocolate, then the color of dark chocolate. Have your “trinity” of onions, celery, and bell pepper cut up ahead of time so you’re ready to throw it in the pan when the roux reaches your desired hue. The vegetables will halt further cooking of the flour-and-oil mixture.

Are there shortcuts? Not really. Some restaurant chefs make roux in an oven, taking it out and stirring it every so often, then saving it until it’s ready to use. (Roux keeps in a jar for months in a cool place.) Some modern Cajuns have tried making it in the microwave (risky—it catches on fire) and others use store-bought. Savoie’s dark roux in a jar is a common fixture in Southern Louisiana grocery stores, and powdered roux by Tony Chachere’s is also widely used (add it to the gumbo like you would add flour to a gravy). But you can’t beat the nutty aroma of home-cooked roux, or the adrenaline high that comes from successfully not burning it.

Lessley Anderson is senior editor at CHOW.

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