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I am the gravy man. No matter in whose home I feast, when the turkey is brought to the table, I get to make the sauce. I have a rep and roux is my secret.

Roux is the hidden element of great cooking. It binds together flavours and thickens soups and gravies. Roux is named for its colour—rouge or red—the colour flour becomes when cooked in fat. It has a unique flavour somewhere between freshly buttered toast and roasted grain.

Roux requires attention but it is easy to make. The ingredients are fat (butter or pan drippings are best) and an equal amount of flour. A quarter cup (125 ml) of each is enough to start. Heat the fat until it is very hot and add the flour. It will slowly turn from white to cream to red to brown. The darker the colour, the stronger the flavour. Remove the pan from heat just before the roux reaches the desired colour because it will keep cooking a little longer. Be careful that none of it actually burns or becomes black. A couple of specks of charred flour will ruin a dish. Better to throw out the batch and start again.

To make gravy, cook the roux in a separate pan with some of the fat from the drippings. Pour off the juices that are still in the pan and remove as much of the rest of the fat as is easily possible. Then deglaze the pan by adding a glass of wine or the remaining stock, gently scraping the cooked bits of skin and meat that may have stuck to the pan. Do this over heat high enough to boil the liquid. Then add another glass of water or stock and cook this down to half to concentrate the flavours. Add a little of this liquid to the roux make a thin slurry, then add it back to the dish. This is important. If you add the roux directly to liquid it will be lumpy. Mix well and cook it a little longer to thicken the gravy into a rich sauce.
Roux gets bad press. Maybe it’s because of the fat or the gluten in the flour. Recent cooking trends recommend substituting a fruit purée. This works as a thickener but it is not the same and has none of roux’s rich nutty flavour. Others recommend cornstarch but this gives food a clear glossy look. It has no flavour and loses its thickening ability if it is cooked too long.

Be like the gravy man. Accept no substitutes. You’ll see there’s nothing to roux.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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