Making a dark Cajun roux from scratch is a dying art. Not too many years ago, there wasn’t a Cajun or Creole household in South Louisiana that didn’t have the unmistakably intense aroma of a dark roux, in all its glory, wafting through the kitchen. Home cooks were taught basic roux-making skills early on, and it was a rite of passage to pass it on to the next generation.
Times have changed.
With the proliferation of jarred and powdered roux products, as well as packaged gumbo mixes, the art of roux making is slowly dying off. Don’t get me wrong, some prepared roux products are very good, and I use them sometimes myself. But, there is no substitute for a homemade roux, and I believe it is the obligation — no, responsibility — of roux makers to hand down this timeless artisan skill to their children. I know my wife has.
Rox can make a roux.
As deep and dark as blackstrap molasses and just as rich.
My wife Roxanne doesn’t cook every night nor does she profess to be a culinary artisan, but she is one of the best natural cooks I know. For her roux, she follows a strict set of guidelines handed down from generations of good Cajun cooks before her. She was born and raised in Jennings, and I sometimes tease her that her grandmother’s black iron pot and well-worn, wooden gumbo spoon were her dowry. Truth be told, to her they are significantly more valuable than anything money could buy.
On a cold January day, she can work magic in that pot with a roux-infused chicken and sausage gumbo like none other I’ve tasted. A roux is the foundation on which gumbo is based. Rox’s roux is nursed and nourished with a serious attention to detail that defies logic. It’s as if my wife goes into a semi-lucid state of consciousness that is mesmerizing. She stirs and stirs. And focuses on color, texture and smell. For over an hour, she stirs. No phone calls, no conversations, no distractions whatsoever.
White, cream, beige, tan, brown, mahogany, and beyond.
There is an instinctive point of departure — a point of no return that she pushes beyond. A less brave or sure-handed cook would stop short of perfection. She has the confidence and courage to pursue that hauntingly dark depth of a rich chocolate-colored roux. Hershey bar chocolate is the terminus, and anything more is burnt and destined for the disposal.
With her wooden spoon scepter in her right hand, my gumbo queen rules the kitchen.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 cups oil
- A Cajun roux starts out in a large cast iron pot over medium heat. With no distractions and approximately one hour of time at your disposal, begin by adding the flour and oil.
- With a long-handled wooden spoon, begin to stir. Constant stirring and moving the flour around the bottom of the pot is the key to browning the flour evenly to prevent burning. This early stage will go slowly as you begin to see the white flour take on a beige and then a tan color.
- Continue stirring slowly and evenly, scraping the bottom and the circular crevices of the pot to move the flour around in the hot oil.
- At about the half-hour mark, you will begin to see a brown color developing and smell the first hints of toasted flour. This is where the stirring becomes even more crucial.
- At this point, you begin to enter the quickly developing phase where the least bit of inattention could result in burnt flecks of flour appearing – a sure sign you’ve ruined the roux. Watch your heat and lower it if the roux is cooking too fast.
- Constant stirring to keep the flour from staying in one place too long prevents burning. You will begin to smell an even nuttier aroma as you see the color turn darker mahogany. Most stop here, but you will keep going until you achieve a deeper, darker chocolatey consistency and color.
- Forget time at this point since you are now cooking by instinct, sight and smell. The utmost attention is needed to your stirring, and when you see that Hershey chocolate darkness, you will know you have arrived.
- Turn off the heat, but continue stirring until it begins to cool down and quits cooking.
- Spoon the roux into a bowl and let cool.
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