What is a roux?
A roux is a cooked mixture of equal parts flour to fat which is used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups. Making a roux is very basic and is such a versatile cooking component that every cook should know how to make it.
The flour used is wheat and it works equally well with whole wheat as it does with refined wheat. The whole wheat will give the roux an earthier fuller flavor while the refined wheat will be more flavor neutral.
The traditional fat to use is clarified butter but you can use regular butter, rendered fat, or oil. I nearly always use butter when I make a roux but I recently tried using olive oil because I’ve heard it works well and my friend Angela uses oil frequently and suggested I give it a try. I did and it worked just as well as the butter so I can happily recommend that vegans learn to make roux in their kitchens using oil instead of butter.
A traditional roux is simply this:
Equal parts fat to flour, cooked.
That’s very simple. But before I give you the method to making the roux I want to mention that I always season my flour before I make the roux. I like to mix in a ramekin the following:
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 shakes of cayenne pepper
This is the flour mixture I use when I make cheese sauce and I love the kick of cayenne gives to the cheese. Even when I don’t use the cayenne, I always add salt and pepper to my flour. (If you will be adding hot peppers a dish in which you will be adding the roux, omit the cayenne and only add later if your dish still needs more heat)
How to make a roux:
Heat up the fat in a skillet (or soup pot) at med/high heat, if it’s butter don’t let it brown*. Whisk in the flour (or flour mixture). When it’s all mixed together it should form a thick paste as you see in the picture above. Whisk the paste for two to three minutes.
It is important to cook it for at least two minutes because this removes the raw taste of flour from the dish you will add your roux to. I always make a light roux and so never cook it for more than five minutes before adding liquid. The longer you cook it the deeper the color and flavor.
After a few minutes you either take it off the heat and transfer to another container for use later, or add liquid to create a sauce, gravy, or soup base.
You can add any liquid to a roux that suits your purpose: water, stock, or milk are the most common liquids to add depending on what you’re making.
How much roux you need for a recipe will sometimes vary. I have found that usually 3 tbsp of flour to 3 tbsp of butter is sufficient to thicken 3 cups of milk for making a cheese sauce for one casserole dish of macaroni and cheese. I also find that this is adequate for thickening a medium batch of soup that serves 4 -6 people.
When you add your liquid to the roux you need to whisk constantly (and briskly) as you pour it into the pot to prevent lumps from forming. I generally pour half my liquid in and make sure to get all the roux mixed well. As soon as I see that the roux is mixed well with no lumps I add the rest of my liquid. This will take longer to thicken. It may take up to 20 minutes to fully thicken.
If you use milk (or cream) you want to make sure that you don’t let it boil hard. Watch it carefully and as soon as you see it begin to bubble, turn the heat down to med/low and whisk it frequently to prevent burning.
Once the roux has thickened your liquid, it’s ready for whatever application you intend it for.
Here are a couple of examples of what you might do next:
If you’re making a cheese sauce you turn the bechamel (roux + milk = bechamel sauce) off the heat and add two cups (or more) of grated cheese, stir, then add to pasta.
If you’re making a soup you would add your veloute (roux + stock = veloute) to some sauteed vegetables or you would start adding your vegetables to the pot with your veloute.
Every cook should know how to make a roux and I hope my instructions give a nudge to anyone who hasn’t learned to make one yet.
*Unless you are following a recipe for a brown butter sauce or