I know there are at least two different ‘rouxs’.
The first I have a lot to do with when making sauces such as bechamel, and can do it in my sleep. I use a small amount of oil or butter, depending on the dish, add a little flour and cook out for a few minutes before adding milk or whatever liquid is called for. There’s only a small amount of paste created by the fat and flour, but it sits happily being stirred in the pan for a few minutes until liquid is added.
The second, on the other hand – I have read about and watched being made on television but that’s it. Which roux? The roux for a gumbo – the chocolate brown progression from its paler beginnings. I’ve been granted a camera peek into the pot by a few Louisiana chefs, and I’ve read up, but the first time I had any physical dealings was for this particular recipe for Cajun chicken gumbo.
The alarm bells should have rung at the variation, and perhaps a non Louisianan(?) recipe writer. I’m not saying a person that doesn’t hail from, can’t recreate authentic dishes from other countries, after all – I pride myself on being able to do just that, and from various curves of the globe too, but this was a variation on a Creole dish. I initially decided to give it a go because I like the idea of Cajun flavours, omission of file powder (which I don’t have), and the chicken instead of seafood. It’s easier for me to get decent chicken than decent seafood.
So… I’ve now tried twice with this recipe, and it’s very nice – but the roux is a problem. I’ll mention that the first time I made the dish I had exactly the same problem with the roux but still wanted to try again.
Fast forward to a recent late afternoon and after a busy day at work I put a small ham on to boil and prepped the onion, celery, peppers, spring onions, spices, and chicken until I had a pile of lidded containers and a heap of chicken on my red chopping board.
The recipe states, ‘brown chicken pieces – remove – fry onion – then celery – remove both – add oil and flour to start the roux’.
Now, whenever I have watched anything to do with Louisiana roux, it has always been made as a stand alone item, not as part of an ongoing dish. And at precisely this point is where the problems start. It worked out at around 2tbsp oil, plus residue in pan to 5tbsp flour. Both times of making this recipe, at this point, I started to struggle because the measly amount of paste wasn’t browning, it was just sticking more and more to my cast iron enamelled pan. I think I stirred, whisked, stirred again for over an hour yesterday trying to get that roux to turn, to no avail. Confused, bewildered, and frankly knackered I grabbed my phone with the non stirring hand and ventured on to YouTube where I found a very nice gentleman’s tutorial. Sure enough, he was ‘just making the roux’, and his ratio was a 1/1, a cup of oil to a cup of flour. In twenty minutes-ish he had cycled through the various shades needed for smothered pork, etouffee, ending up at the lovely dark roux for gumbo. He then said to decant into a container and cool, later to be used as part of a gumbo.
After listening to, and watching that tutorial I decided to just carry on with the roux as was – after all, the flour was definitely cooked – and aim to make a proper roux another day to be used in recipes. I was on my last legs and it was getting late.
After adding the spices then the liquid (stock) I had to sieve the result into another pan because the flour had cooked for that long I couldn’t whisk out the lumps, I added the browned chicken, onions and celery, and peppers then let it cook for a while, hoping it would reduce too. I added the merest sprinkle of chicken thickening granules to replace the flour that had dried. Nearer the end I added chopped ham, parsley and at the very end the spring onions.
In the meantime I cooked rice for the middle of the bowl, but at that point I was sick of the sight of this meal so I didn’t eat much. It was good though, even if the roux was wrong, but I’m looking forward to making the roux properly and eating the difference.
I’m not sure if the recipe writer was getting their rouxs mixed up, because the order of use and the method are very similar to the way a French roux might be used in a dish with meat and a thick sauce. Or maybe they have a magic pan!
I will make this dish again because even made improperly the flavours are great, but I’ll have made the roux first… so the recipe will be tweaked to within an inch of its life! I’ll let you know how I get on!