...a way of seeing beyond inner and outer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the juju of good a roux.

My mother's "parlor" in Houston, TX
           Around this time of year, instead of having all of our family, because family is all so spread out and it's complicated, we gather as much of our family  and as many of our friends as we can for a  party where we play poker.  For this crush of people, I cook Southern food in general but gumbo specifically.
     I've talked about my Southern culinary roots before, but I sort of fudged it because I'm not from the "South" as much as I am from Texas.   If you're from the South, you're appalled I would dare to pretend to be Southern.  If you're from Texas you're appalled I would stoop down to pretend to be Southern.  The rest of you may be appalled you ended up here, y'all.
     Texans formed an independent country for a while and honestly we never really got over it.  I know the South felt that way for a long time, but as an outsider, they don't seem to be as proud as they used to be about the "Glorious" Confederacy. I know Texas isn't.  .  But Texans sort of feel like we did everyone else a favor by coming to the party, no matter whose party it was. We like everyone else.  We just like us better.
     That would be the end of the story and we'd be talking about making brisket instead of gumbo but I grew up spending a lot of time living on and around my grandparents farm in far Eastern Texas, the part that shares a border with Louisiana, and if New Orleans isn't part of the old South, then ...well, I can't even think of anything equally preposterous.
     Thanks to a galvanizing company in Shreveport that did quick turn around, as in, I'd sit in the truck and wait for the steel to be galvanized, Louisiana was part of my day job as a gopher for my grandparent's steel fabrication company.  .  Point being, even if you're a reluctant cowgirl with live cows on the weekends, you pick things up living that close the the South.  Roux is one of those things.  Being a vegetarian is another. It's hard to eat your meat once you meet your meat. If you know what I mean.
 Don't leave the stove once the roux is the color of p.b & j
( - the j). 

     Meanwhile, back at the farm, since a Texan will laugh at you for using the word "ranch" in reference to anything less than a 1000 acres, you can make soup without roux, but it will not be gumbo, no matter how much frozen okra and Tabasco you add to it.
    It is simple really, equal parts flour and oil added to the heaviest skillet you have. I have a cast iron skillet that has been well seasoned from making roux and kept that way by virtue of its other job as the chicken fryer and an over flow pan for my husbands electric deep fryer. If you don't have a well seasoned iron skillet, you will by the time you're done making roux a time or two.
     For sake of discussion, let's take two cups flour and two cups of vegetable oil.  Heat and time are the only other things you need to make the type of roux that you're going  to use for the gumbo that people will eat  as they turn down  home fried chicken, mashed potatoes whipped with cream and butter topped with gravy made from the  pan dripping of frying said chicken, baked mac and cheese,  and a whole host of sugar, butter, flour, vanillia, rum and whipping cream, so you'd better make a whole hell of a lot of gumbo if you're havin' a party.  Even the carrot nibblers will be knocking each other out of the way to get to a gumbo like that.

  • 2c. all purpose flour
  • 2c vegetable oil
  • 1 iron skillet
  • 1 bourbon *optional, but this is a nice one I shared with my Dad when I was home last month.
  • patience, the amount varies
  • zydeco  A station on Pandora is a great place for this to happen.
  • (youtube pop up ahead.  Consider yourself warned) Red Garland. He will  come in handy when you've discovered you're going to need more patience.
      Zydeco'up. Move to Red Garland as needed.   Put the oil and flour into the iron skillet and stir until combined.  Turn on the stove. Start stirring. I like to use wooden spatula because a seasoned iron skillet is the old school non-stick pan and the roux gets so hot that I dislike using plastic anything with it until it's cooled. I have melted tupperware with this stuff.  Good roux is about one thing really, color. The color will tell you when you're done. The bourbon will help you get through it all. Small sips. 
     Truth is, you are going to be there stirring a while if you want to make gumbo for 20, shorter if you want to make "cream" gravy for ...say.. 800.    Cooking the flour reduces its ability to thicken liquid so if you just cook it enough to slightly brown it, then you're going to make a brick of gravy unless you put a lot of liquid into it, thus the 800 serving.   If you want a dark gumbo, and I do, because it's smokey and rich and tells a story the way a good wine does, then you're looking for a mahogany colored roux.
Mahogany and Malbec..I was out of bourbon.

     The first time I read that in a cook book I thought,
"What the hell does mahogany look like?"

   Experience taught me to get close to the color of cocoa powder, take it off the heat and keep stirring until the pan gets cool enough to touch and it looks like nutella. If it helps, set a glass container with cocoa by the stove so you know what the target looks like. The roux will continue cooking after it's off the heat and this is why you use a heavy pan to do this. You want something that will slowly cook the roux the last few minutes with no chance of burning it. That's not to say you can't burn it before you take it off the heat. You can and if you do, you'll know it by the black bits in the pan. Throw the mess away or you will be very unhappy with the results of your gumbo. This is why some instructions for making gumbo roux will tell you to take your phone off the hook and, make the kids stay "with the nanny or as she prefers to be called, 'Mom'". The other thing you need to know, particularly if you do have to pour it out or the kids aren't with the nanny, is that I wasn't kidding about how hot this stuff gets. It is Cajun napalm. It will burn you, literally.  Be careful with it. 
     The truth and length of all this is why more people don't make gumbo at home. If I'm in the right part of the country, I don't make gumbo either because there are so many well qualified people eager to do it for me, but I'm in California now, and I know what the real thing is.   It's someone scooping up the dark sludge at the bottom of a  nasty frying pot and turning into gumbo. It borders on the supernatural.  Do this.  Think of it as a ritual of alchemy that you're about to share with thousands of kitchen priestesses through time.  I know for a fact just makin' it has  the power to ward off chocolate cake that grins at you and asks,
"How you doin'?
    The next time you find yourself alone with dietary dynamite, make some roux.  You'll see what I mean. I'd proofread this post, but the roux is done and so am I.


  1. No Southern or Texan kitchen is complete without a well seasoned iron skillet. The food automatically tastes better...and it also makes the best cornbread.
    I have never made gumbo, as it usually calls for creatures I don't eat...do you have a vegetarian version?

  2. I don't, but they're out there, I'm sure. This is for other people. I made enough roux to play with so maybe I'll try and make one. I'll let you know.


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