Saturday, March 14, 2009

How To Make An Authentic Cajun Roux

How To Make An Authentic Cajun Roux (for the Uninitiated)

Note: My good friend and great cook Marty Priola reminded me that the following recipe for the preparation of a roux is specifically for seafood-based dishes. He is sooo right. A chicken gumbo, for instance, instead of using bacon grease would more properly use the fried chicken drippings as the source for a roux. Other dishes often call for lighter rouxs than the one here as well. But this is your good, basic, all-around, all-purpose, authentic, to-the-max, lip-smackin', rib-stickin' Cajun roux.

The key to almost every major Cajun dish is the proper preparation of a roux. A roux is basically a gravy base for whatever the meat or seafood happens to be, whether in a gumbo, a creole sauce, or an etouffe. Beware of those newfangled recipes in the Homes and Kitchens sections of newspapers or magazines. These food nannies are always on a health kick (how many of them do you think Jazzercise?) and they substitute canola oil, peanut oil, and even olive oil for bacon grease, which is far and away the best ingredient for making a roux, I don't care what anybody else tells you. You don't use much grease in a roux to begin with, so why not go for the best taste, texture, and results with the ingredient Cajuns have used for generations?

Keep this in mind when making a roux: it is a slow, tedious process. You cannot go off and leave it for even a minute. A roux that burns even a little bit must be thrown out. So it is best to go slow and do it right the first time. Also, it is wise to use a long-handled whisk or wooden spoon to stir (which you will do almost constantly) the roux while you are making it. Long handles keep your hands farther away from the hot grease, which when combined with the flour will stick to your skin and burn like napalm.

Okay, here's what you need:

A heavy three or four quart pot. A thin pot won't do. You can prepare the roux in a thick sauce pan or cast iron skillet with the idea of pouring it into a bigger pot when finished.
1/3 cup of bacon grease
1/3 cup of flour

Over a medium flame, heat your grease and do not let it get too hot. It does not need to be smoking or boiling. When it starts getting hot, but is not yet at the smoking stage, put in about a tablespoon of the flour and whisk vigorously until it is totally dissolved. When that is dissolved add another tablespoon and repeat. Again, make sure you are stirring constantly. Repeat until all the flour is dissolved and make sure the roux is not browning too fast. If the roux is burned, dark speckles come into it. If that happens, sorry podna but you gotta throw that batch out and start over. Ayyyyy-eeeeee!!!

Okay, you've got the flour dissolved and you are stirring steadily but not crazily, just steady, lazy, daydreaming stirring. If you are doing it right you will notice the roux slowly getting browner and browner. Keep stirring for what seems forever until the color is about as brown as brown (not tan) shoes. When it is a deep, nice, reddish brown take it off the fire and put in all your chopped vegetables as your recipe describes. Yes, when you dump those veggies all in they will make an impressive "sssssss" noise and you will need to stir all over again. Keep in mind that until you put those veggies in, the roux keeps cooking even off the fire. So have those veggies ready to go in when the time is right.

Seasoned pros can heat up grease and throw in the flour without even looking, stir it up, and within a few minutes come out with a picture perfect roux. You can't. This takes years and I do mean years of practice in a hot kitchen. What YOU need to do is put on some comfortable shoes (don't do like me and cook without shoes on -- Cajun napalm really scalds those little piggies and I have dropped a knife a time or two and hopped around bleeding all over the floor. Stop laughing.) get a favorite beverage, and stir, baby, stir. Put on a little zydeco or Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys and learn the Cajun two-step while you are stirring. And, as always folks, laissez les bon temps roulet!!!!!