With Roux My Heart is Laden

(apologies to A.E. Houseman)

When I was 12 my mother let me help her make the gravy for frikedeller1. After pouring off most of the grease from the Teflon lined avocado green electric skillet that she had fried the meatballs in she added some butter and let it sizzle until the foam subsided. She then sprinkled on some flour and let me stir the mixture with a flat whisk until the flour had absorbed all of the fat and just began to turn brown. When she poured in some water that had been flavored with a bullion cube I watched in amazement as the butter soaked flour violently expanded like whipped cream from a gas dispenser. Once the first bit of moisture hit it, the hot fat and flour seemed to angrily search out more, absorbing every bit of liquid it could find, calming only when enough liquid had been added to form a smooth viscous liquid. I know we ended up with gravy. What I didn't know at the time is that we began with a roux.

Roux, simply defined as wheat flour cooked in some fat, has been used to thicken liquid for gravies and sauces for over 500 years2. In classical French cuisine roux is broken down into three basic styles: white, blonde and brown. The difference among the rouxs is simply a matter of cooking time, with the roux getting darker the longer it cooks before liquid is added. Each of these styles of roux serve as the primary thickening agent for three of the five mother sauces3: white roux for béchamel or white sauce, blonde roux for velouté or yellow sauce, and brown roux for espagnole, or brown sauce.

Until the 1980s, the culinary intelligentsia of the United States only considered roux within the context of thickening sauces. Indeed, in his seminal work American Cookery, James Beard only considered brown roux in terms of Brown Sauce. And even there he instructs the reader to brown the flour in an oven before adding it to the oil. In reality, the roux dial was turned up to 11 in the 18th century by the Acadian exiles in Louisiana who transformed roux from a thickening agent into a source of incomparable complex flavor. The Cajuns discovered that cooking roux past brown, almost to a dark chocolate color, added rich nutty, almost smokey essences to a dish. The darker the roux, the more flavor it brings to the party. Unfortunately, the darker the roux, the less it's ability to thickening anything. But darn it, it's easy enough to add a little blonde roux to thicken things up at the end, now, isn't it?

Roux works as an efficient thickening agent by allowing for the uniform dispersal of the flour's starch granules throughout a liquid before the liquid, heat and starch can get together and do their thing. The fat is important because it helps keep the starch granules separate (if you dump flour or starch into a hot liquid, you'll only end up with gelatinized lumps floating in liquid—a good thing for dumplings, but not for gravy). Thickening happens as heat melts away the protective fat coating, the starch granules absorb water, swelling, with some of them eventually bursting, releasing amylose molecules that bond with the water and form a wonderful web that restrict the free movement of the remaining gelatinized starch granules4. Swollen starch granules that can't move mean thick gravy. Now, the more you heat the sauce or gravy, the more starch granules will burst, and eventually the liquid will thin out. Dark roux has limited thickening power for similar reasons. The heat of the oil breaks up the starch granules before they ever have a chance to swell by coming into contact with liquid5.

The temperature of both the roux and liquid are important considerations when transforming thickening rouxs into gravy or sauce. It's a lot easier to spread all the little fat coated starchy flour granules throughout the liquid before the thickening action really kicks in if the fat is relatively solid (but not rock hard straight from the refrigerator solid) as you start to whisk the roux and liquid together. If both the roux and liquid are hot, chances are the fat will melt from the starch granules before you've distributed them evenly, resulting in clumps of flour and pools of fat6. If both the roux and liquid are cool, well, you're just jousting with windmills as the roux will never disperse evenly without the aid of an immersion blender or a Merc 225. You'll find the greatest success when whisking the cool ingredient (again, that's room temperature cool, not refrigerator cool) into the hot ingredient.

For the most part, light rouxs call for either butter or some of whatever fat has rendered from whatever you are cooking. Fat selection is much more important in dark rouxs though. This is partly due to the cooking time and temperature required to make a dark roux7, but mostly it's due to flavor. Duck fat, bacon fat, peanut oil, canola oil, lard—they all bring different flavors to the roux and the finished dish.

The ideal proportions for a roux, whether for thickening or flavoring, are roughly equal volumes of flour to fat. In most cases you want about 15% to 25% more flour than fat to improve the thickening power of the roux. To make a pan gravy or a white sauce for four people, adding two cups of broth or milk to two heaping tablespoons (scoop with a tablespoon measure and dump it in without leveling) of flour cooked in two tablespoons of fat will do you just fine. If you're making a cup of roux for a gallon of gumbo, however, you'll want a 1–1/4 cups of flour to a cup of oil.

The biggest challenge people have with a roux is keeping it from burning, while still cooking it enough to get rid of the cereal flavor of raw flour. If you let flour and fat sit in a hot pan for even a minute, there's a good chance the flour will begin to burn. And, just one spec of burnt flour will ruin whatever you plan to make with it. The obvious solution, is to pay close attention to the roux, stir it constantly so that no single flour granule spends enough time on the hot pan bottom to burn, and cook the roux over a burner at it's lowest setting, allowing you to easily stop the cooking process before things go too far. For a white or blonde roux, this means ten to twenty minutes of constant stirring and close attention—not that big a deal. But for brown rouxs, and especially dark Cajun rouxs, you could be talking about over an hour of standing at a stove stirring and stirring and stirring.

To make a dark Cajun roux, Paul Prudhomme recommends adding the flour to oil heated to it's smoking point over a burner set as high as it can go and whisking like mad when you add the flour. This method will indeed brown the flour very quickly and you can end up with a wonderful dark roux in a matter of minutes. Of course, Paul Prudhomme has fair amount of experience making roux. He can whisk faster than most of us can ever hope to and he knows almost intuitively when good roux goes bad. My one and only attempt at this method, however, resulted in a neighbor calling the fire department. In my experience, you only improve your margin of error by lowering the heat, and simply taking more time to stir and cook the roux. My first successes with darker rouxs began by cooking them over a burner set between low and medium–low. Yep, it did take as much as an hour to get the roux to just a dark peanut butter color. But, I had complete control over the cooking at all time. Though now I confidently set the burner to medium–high heat and need only thirty minutes to get to a nice dark milk chocolate color roux, the experience of watching the flour and fat cook over low heat and watching how the roux changed was invaluable.

Before you begin to add the rest of your ingredients your piping hot roux, keep in mind, that roux can be a force for bad as well as good. In Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, Chef Prudhomme calls dark roux Cajun Napalm, a wonderful nomme de guerre, recognizing that flour is perhaps the ideal vehicle for delivering hot oil to warm flesh and getting it to stay there. Common sense tells us to add stock or vegetables to the bubbling goo a little bit at a time and from as great a distance as possible to avoid getting hit. Common sense, however is wrong. If you think about it, by increasing the number of times you add something to the pan you're not reducing the risk of splatter as much as increasing the opportunity to be splattered. And increasing the distance from which you add the ingredients only increases the size of the splash made when they hit the pan (think pools, 12 year old boys and “the cannon ball”). A better way8 to avoid being splattered with the domestic equivalent of hot lava is to add all of your ingredients to the roux at once and add them as close down to the pan as possible. Adding the ingredients all at once both reduces the statistical chance that you'll have to take a hit for your guests and rapidly reduces the temperature of both the pan and the roux if you do.

  1. Frikadeller are traditional Danish meatballs made of equal parts ground veal and pork mixed together with chopped onion, breadcrumbs and egg.
  2. Most sources date the use of roux to the early to mid 17th century based it's appearance in a 1652 cookbook “Le Cuisinier Francios Francois” by Pierre de La Varenne, a court chef during the reign of King Louis XIV. Of course, most culinary historians don't appear to believe that a cooking technique has been invented until it's invented in France. Meanwhile, a century before in Germany, Sabina Welserin provides the following direction for making yellow sauce for game or birds: “First put fat in a pan and fry some flour in it, then take some wine and three times as much of broth and put it into the pan and add to it ginger and pepper and color it yellow, then it is ready.” In On Food and Cooking Harold McGee points to evidence of an even earlier origin documented by Italian chef Giuliano Bugialli in one of his cookbooks with a reproduction of a 15th century Italian manuscript describing flour browned in fat. Before roux, adding bread or breadcrumbs was the primary method to thicken soups and sauces.
  3. There are four mother sauces defined by Careme: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole and Hollandaise. Escoffier adds a fifth: Tomato.
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, pp 334–339
  5. Shirley Corriher, CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, p277
  6. Having the roux and liquid at different temperatures isn't critical, but is does make things easier, if just a little more time consuming. When cool liquid hits a hot roux the fat congeals, preventing too much liquid from reaching the starch granules before you get a chance to disperse them. If you're good at whisking fast, though, you should have no problem successfully combining warm liquid and roux and cutting down on your cooking time.
  7. If you're using butter for a dark roux you'll want to clarify it. The solids in non-clarified butter will burn before the flour colors, ruining the roux.
  8. As recommended by Shirley Corriher in CookWise

Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy

Serves four adults as a main course

Images of chickens or turkeys are not actually the first things to come to my mind when I hear the word gravy. No, I'm visualizing cream gravy. Cream gravy chock full of crumbled sausage and flowing over freshly baked buttermilk biscuits, or cream gravy poured generously over chicken fried steak (aka country fried steak), mashed potatoes and green beans. Anyone who doesn't admit to loving this stuff is, well, a wuss.

The secret touches here (and they work equally well with fried chicken) are soaking the meat in well seasoned buttermilk for a good bit, and adding a bit of baking powder to the flour (acid in buttermilk + baking powder in flour breading = light crispy crust).


  • 1–1/2 pounds top round, bottom round or swiss steak
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons salt—one for the buttermilk and one for the breading
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • 2 cups flour for breading the meat, plus 2 tablespoons for the gravy
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, lard or bacon grease (you're frying beef and you're concerned about the type of fat you're frying it in?), or enough fat of choice to fill your largest skillet 1/8" to 1/4" deep
  • 2 cups whole milk (again, the main ingredient in this dish is fried beef and you're concerned about whether your milk contains 3% or 2% fat?)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning the gravy

Directions for Chicken Fried Steak

  • Pound the bejesus out of the meat until it's a little less than a quarter inch thick. Cut the meat into 2 x 5 inch steaks if need be.
  • Preheat your oven to 180° or the lowest temperature your oven will go (this is just to keep the steak warm between batches)
  • In a bowl or casserole dish blend together the buttermilk, 1 tablespoon of the salt and the Tabasco (unless you're a wuss or, like me, have small children that won't tolerate anything “spicy”). Submerge the meat in the buttermilk mixture and let it soak (in the refrigerator) for two to eight hours.
  • When you are ready to begin cooking, remove the milk for the gravy from the refrigerator.
  • In a 12" cast iron skillet (or your largest heavy skillet), preheat the shortening/fat for at least 5 minutes over a burner set to medium–high.
  • In a shallow bowl mix together the flour, remaining tablespoon of salt, paprika, pepper and baking powder. Pour this into a brown paper grocery bag (I just love the way they sound when you shake things in them) or one of those large newfangled zipper lock plastic bags.
  • In two batches (maybe three, depending on the size of your steaks and skillet; the goal being that the edges of the steaks don't touch), remove pieces of meat from their buttermilk bath, gently shake off whatever buttermilk will come off with a gentle shaking (you want a coating of buttermilk, but you don't want it dripping), add the meat to your flour filled bag of choice and shake it like you mean it to evenly coat the meat with flour.
  • Add the breaded meat to the hot skillet and cook it for five minutes on each side (10 minutes total). You actually want to use a fork to flip the steaks as tongs will probably remove too much breading (and the steaks are thin enough that you're not going to loose much juice from stabbing them with a fork).
  • Remove the cooked steaks to a platter in the warm oven and repeat with the remaining meat until all of the steaks are cooked.

Directions for Cream Gravy

  • Spoon out and reserve two tablespoons of grease from the pan, dump the rest and wipe out the pan. You do not want to leave any excess flour or breading in the pan. If it isn't burnt yet, it will definitely burn when you make the roux, thus ruining your gravy.
  • Add the reserved grease back to pan, plus two tablespoons of flour to start your roux.
  • Stirring constantly, cook the roux over a burner set to low until the roux turns a blonde/pale brown color (about 15 to 20 minutes).
  • Quickly add about 1/3 of the milk while whisking rapidly. When the milk is fully incorporated into the roux, add another third, whisk until incorporated, and repeat with the rest of the milk.
  • Season the gravy with salt and pepper to taste, pour it over the steak and whatever else you made to go with it, and serve.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Serves 12 adults as a main course

Lets get this straight. I'm a New Englander. I've lived half of my life in Rhode Island and the other half (so far) in Massachusetts. To top it off, I've never been to Louisiana. The closest I've ever come to real Cajun cooking is buying pork pie from Shaw's supermarket in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. On the other hand, I've longed to go to and eat in New Orleans and surrounding parishes for as long as I can remember, and even wrote a letter of protest to CBS when they canceled Frank's Place. That said, I've stuck to the basics with this gumbo recipe by stealing it from Chuck Taggart's Gumbo Pages. I've modified the ingredients slightly (I substitute tasso for some of the Andouille because, well, I just love tasso), but other than that it's a straight cut and paste job. The key to success, as with all Honest Cuisine, is quality ingredients. That means homemade chicken stock (though you can get away sometimes with store–made stock from a quality market) and quality meats. If you can't get good andouille sausage or tasso ham, then any quality smoked sausage and ham will do fine. I get my andouille and ham from D'Artagnan's and, though I can't vouch for it's authenticity, it's really tasty quality stuff.

Be aware that this will feed a crowd. But then again, that's part of what Honest Cuisine is all about.


  • 1 cup of oil, canola oil will do fine, but if you used a whole chicken to make stock and were able to save and render a bit of the chicken fat, do use that, plus whatever vegetable oil you need to make up a cup.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1–1/2 to 2 cups of chopped onion (about 2 large onions)
  • 1 cup chopped green bell peppers (about 2 large peppers)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 4 stalks, greens too if they have them)
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic (4-6 cloves)
  • 4 quarts chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 large chicken (young hen preferred), cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, or to taste
  • 1 pound andouille or smoked sausage, cut on the bias into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 pound Tasso ham or smoked ham, cut on the bias into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 bunch scallions (green onions), tops only, chopped
  • 2/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • Filé powder to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions for Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

  • Season the chicken with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning and brown quickly. Brown the sausage, pour off fat and reserve meats.
  • In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil and cook the flour in the oil over medium to high heat (depending on your roux-making skill), stirring constantly, until the roux reaches a dark reddish-brown color, almost the color of coffee or milk chocolate for a Cajun–style roux. If you want to save time, or prefer a more New Orleans-style roux, cook it to a medium, peanut-butter color, over lower heat if you're nervous about burning it.
  • Add the vegetables, all at once, and stir quickly. This cooks the vegetables and also stops the roux from cooking further. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes.
  • Add the stock, seasonings, chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then cook for about one hour, skimming fat off the top as needed.
  • Add the chopped scallion tops and parsley, and heat for 5 minutes. Serve over rice in large shallow bowls. Accompany with a good beer and lots of hot, crispy French bread.


Great article. A couple of comments about the gumbo recipe. These are entirely personal, mind you. I'd go with peanut oil over the canola. Not a great difference I suppose, but there's a hint of nuttiness to peanut oil that to me seems to work better with a darker roux.

I think you hit the nail on the head with regard to where most people screw up making a dark roux. They stop too soon, afraid of burning the roux. That's understandable, because as you note, even at a relatively high heat, it takes a good long while to make a dark roux. I know that when I first started cooking gumbo, I always stopped too soon. But I can't emphasize enough how much better your gumbo will be if you go as far as you can; a deep, dark mahogany color is where I take it these days. And I do it on high heat, stirring constantly. If you've got your vegetables (the trinity) ready to go, you'll generally be okay. Once you add the vegetables, the roux will stop cooking.

The recipe for cream gravy brings back memories too. My grandmother used to make fried chicken with "milk gravy" in a very similar manner. Served over local rice ("popcorn" rice) it was a thing of beauty, though not exactly low fat.



I agree completely... this is a great article. I'm starting to incorporate roux a lot more in my cooking, and I find experimenting with it quite a bit of fun. :) But I'm kinda weird that way, I guess.

BTW, I took a few years of French and I noticed you pluralized "roux" as "rouxs". I don't know if that's how the cajuns do it, but Marion-Webster writes: "Main Entry: roux
Pronunciation: 'rü
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural roux /'rüz/"

So, it's all in the pronunciation of the word rather than the spelling.

However, the cool thing is that your blog comes up if you do a search on "rouxs". :-D Might be a bonus.

I knew someone would pick up on the roux/rouxs thing. I chose rouxs because, when I lived for a few years near Woonsocket, Rhode Island (which has a very large French Canadian population), I heard a lot of english pluralization used for french words. Within the context of French roux, the s is clearly wrong, and I'm not 100% sure if it's standard in Cajun country either. But I had to pick one and "rouxs" just sounded more like Honest Cuisine. Of course, learning of the extra search engine traffic potential, I sure as heck ain't gonna chage it now!

Mais oui ma Cher, Laissez les bon temps roulez, and other aphorisms demonstrating my Cajun-ness. ;)

It's "roux" both singular and plural down here as far as I know.


In response to your response to making dark roux: I haven't tried it yet, but I hear that older Southern women take an iron cast skillet (one they only use for gravy and such) and put their flour in it. Then they roast it for a good long while in the oven until it gets like a darker shade of brown. Then they use it, store it, whatever. This sounds like a better way to go rather than sitting and stirring forever and ever, you know?

I'll try to find where I read it, if you're interested. My wife is a Southern ex-patriate, so I have some cookbooks of southern cooking. :-D

Hello ladies! I lived in New Orleans for awhile and worked with a couple of competent chefs. #1 cook your roux in the oven it heats evenly and only burns when you forget about it. #2 Gumbo is soup not gravy add your roux to your stock not the other way around your grandmother makes gravy you make sauce.#3 ROUX MANNE, BEURRE MANNE in your REPOTOIRE DE LA CUISINE look it up. Sizzle and burn, LOS

Wow, Los, that's pretty rude. But I'll take it that you meant well, and your comment does illustrate some of the confusion that often arises when people don't realize the real differences between Creole and Cajun cooking.

The method you describe is often used to create lighter Creole roux and gumbos, not the dark Cajun roux and gumbo discussed in this story. In Le Répertoire De LA Cuisine, Louis Soulnier does describe Roux Brun (Brown Roux) as “Clarified butter mixed with flour and cooked slowly in oven until a light brown color is obtained.” This method will create a roux to flavor a nice Creole gumbo, and it makes sense that it would be often used in restaurants because it is a both faster and safer method. I find this classical French technique ultimately less satisfying, though, as it is impossible to get a truly dark roux for Cajun gumbos in this way without burning the flour. Of course, Soulnier was a French chef, not a Cajun cook and probably only knew of gumbo as the name for okra. And New Orleans is of course the home of Creole rather than Cajun cuisine so it makes sense that the chefs you worked with there used the techniques of Soulnier and Escoffier rather than the uniquely American method developed by the Acadian Diaspora.

Oh, and please note that there is a difference between Beurre Manié and roux. Beurre Manié is room temperature butter and flour (Soulnier also included cream, but, Escoffier, does not) mixed together in roughly equal proportions to form a paste. This paste is also used, as you describe, to thicken soups and sauces. I'd imagine you could create a pretty decent quick Creole gumbo with Beurre Manié by using flour that's been toasted in an oven first as Blue suggests. If anyone has ever tried something like that before, please, let us know how it worked out!

My apologies if I came off as rude, not my intention, I was only trying to get more bang for my buck w/ limited comment space.My point's being that roux technique's have been around for a long time.Cajun, Creole's,and Acadian's have just taken them to a diffrent level.Research and/or immersing yourself in the culture are some of the best way's to get good result's.I have a great source for andouille sausage also," The Kajun Kettle" New Orleans,LA. give them a call I think they overnight. A couple of good cookbook's for gumbo, Kevin Graham's CREOLE FLAVORS and The Time Life Series(old and hard to find) American Cooking,Creole and Acadian. Ther are not alot of Cajun cookbook's out there but A good place to go is The Kitchen Witch Pre-owned Cookbook's P.LaMancusa & Daughters 1214 North Rampart Street New Orleans, LA. 70116 (504)569-8450, kwitchen@aol.com, www.kwcookbooks.com give them a call great book's lots of Vietnamese stuff too. Jan Brinbaum who is a Paul Prudhomme protege and has Catahoula Restaurant in Calistoga, CA. make's an amazing rooster(you know the really tough bird that no one ever eat's he is just a pimp) gumbo that will blow you away. Check it out! Gumbo is good food, roux(however you make it)is good too. Dick! Rude food ! Never ! Good food always. Sizzle and burn. LOS

Personally, I would think you'd have more control over the roux on the stove-top, but I've seen the oven-method for browning flour in cookbooks. I think I've even tried it once or twice. I can't recall the results.

One thing I've not come across in a recipe for Gumbo is the method of adding roux to stock, as opposed to the other way around. In fact, every recipe for Gumbo I can recall reading calls for making the roux, adding the trinity to the roux, then proceeding. I don't suppose it really matters much, ultimately.

As for cajun/creole cookbooks, check out The Evolution of Cajun and Creole Cuisine by John Folse. He's not my favorite chef in the world by a longshot, but it's not a bad cookbook for the cajun/creole classics.

I was taught that adding your trinity to your roux was for the purpose of adding flavor(roux being bland and your base if you use the stock to roux method.So you would want it to have some kick to start)and to cool your roux down,the better to add it to your stock, sorry! real long sentence. Also when you add your roux to your stock you have more control over your thickness and less grease/oil to skim off hence a better tasting gumbo and less labor intensive. Carmalize more trinity and add to your stock after you add your roux, now you have a gumbo base. Say you make 3 gallons like I usually do you can have gumbo ya-ya one day, seafood gumbo the next, and if the season is right gumbo aux fine herbs the next. Oven browning roux gives you a more consistent browning and when you work in a kitchen and have a prep list has long as you arm you do not want to be hovering over the stove any longer than you have to, and it is less likely to burn. John Folse! Paul Prudhomme! Funny story, I worked in New orleans for awhile and the Cajun chefs that I worked with said that when there mama blackened a fish they did'nt eat it they threw it in the garbage, ha,ha. Eat out, Sizzle and burn.LOS

Thanks for a great article! If I just may add something:
Strictly speaking, frikadeller are not meatballs, at least not in the sense that the Swedish ones are: small or big, but always rolled into spheric perfection. The Danish frikadell is at least twice as big, more often than not oblong in shape and contains 50/50 of minced pork and veal, wheras good quality Swedish meatballs consist of equal parts of beef and veal, possibly with some pork mince to make them more juicy.

Yes, yes indeed! Frikadeller really aren't round like European footballs (American soccer balls), but oblong, as in American Footballs. I only thought of the ingredients, not the shape, when calling them "meatballs". And they are usually made larger than traditional Swedish meatballs - more the size of Italian meatballs, or a little larger than a golf ball. Thanks for pointing out these very important details!

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