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Clarified butter, vegetable oils, bacon drippings or lard are commonly used fats. It is used as a thickener for gravy, other sauces, soups and stews. It is typically made from equal parts of flour and fat by weight. When used in Italian food, roux is traditionally equal parts of butter and flour.
In Cajun cuisine, roux is made with bacon fat or oil instead of butter and dark brown in color, which lends much richness of flavor, albeit less thickening power. Central European cuisine uses lard (in its rendered form) or more recently vegetable oil instead of butter for the preparation of roux (which is called zápražka in Slovak, jíška in Czech, zasmażka in Polish, rántás in Hungarian and Mehlschwitze in German).
The fat is heated in a pot or pan, melting it if necessary. Then the flour is added. The mixture is stirred until the flour is incorporated and then cooked until at least the point where a raw flour taste is no longer apparent and the desired colour has been reached. The final colour can range from nearly white to nearly black, depending on the length of time it is over the heat and its intended use. The end result is a thickening and flavoring agent.
Roux is most often made with butter as the fat base, but it may be made with any edible fat. In the case of meat gravies, fat rendered from meat is often used. In regional American cuisine, bacon is sometimes rendered to produce fat to use in the roux. If clarified butter is not available, vegetable oil is often used when producing dark roux, as it does not burn at high temperatures, as whole butter does.
Adding liquids to create a sauce
When combining roux with water-based liquids, such as broth or milk, many authorities assert it is important that these liquids are not excessively hot. It is preferable to add room temperature or warm roux to a moderately hot liquid, or vice versa, to avoid lumps. They should be added in small quantities while stirring, some authorities asserting to briefly bring the temperature to boil. Conversely, some authorities suggest that the combined mixture will never be lumpy if the roux itself is correctly made.
Light (or "white") roux provides little flavor other than a characteristic richness to a dish, and is used in French cooking and some gravies or pastries throughout the world. Darker roux is made essentially by cooking the roux longer.
Darker roux, sometimes referred to as "blond", "peanut-butter", "brown" or "chocolate" roux depending on the color achieved, add a distinct nutty flavor to a dish.
For example, classic Swabian (southwest German) cooking uses a darker roux for its "brown broth" (braune Brühe), which, in its simplest form, consists of nothing more than lard, flour, and water, with a bay leaf and salt for seasoning. Dark roux is often made with vegetable oils, which have a higher smoke point than butter, and are used in Cajun and Creole cuisine for gumbos and stews. The darker the roux, the less thickening power it has; a chocolate roux has about one-fourth the thickening power, by weight, of a white roux. A very dark roux, just shy of burning and turning black, has a distinctly reddish color and is sometimes referred to as "brick" roux.
Staka (στάκα) is a type of roux particular to Cretan cuisine. It is prepared by cooking goat milk cream over a low flame with wheat flour or starch: the protein-rich part of the butterfat coagulates with the flour or starch and forms the staka proper, which is served hot. It is generally eaten dipping bread in it, occasionally served over French fries.
The fatty part separates to form stakovoutyro, staka butter, which is kept for later use and has a faint cheesy flavor. This staka butter is used in Cretan piláfi, a local variation of pilaf commonly served in weddings.
Cooks can substitute for roux by adding a mixture of water and wheat flour to a dish that needs thickening, since the heat of boiling water will release the starch from the flour; however, this temperature is not high enough to eliminate the floury taste. A mixture of water and flour used in this way is colloquially known as “cowboy roux”, and in modern cuisine it is called a white wash, but is used infrequently since it imparts a flavor to the finished dish that a traditional haute cuisine chef would consider unacceptable. Cornflour (known as cornstarch in the United States) can be used instead of wheat flour, as less is needed to thicken, and it imparts less of the raw flour taste, and it also makes the final sauce more shiny.
As an alternative to roux, which is high in fat and very energy-dense, some Creole chefs have experimented with toasting flour without oil in a hot pan as an addition to gumbo. Cornstarch mixed with water (slurry), arrowroot, and other agents can be used in place of roux as well. These items do not contribute to the flavor of a dish, and are used solely for thickening liquids. More recently, many chefs have turned to a group of naturally occurring chemicals known as hydrocolloids. In addition to being flavorless and possessing the ability to act as a thickening agent, the resulting texture is thought by some to be superior, and only a small amount is required for the desired effect.
- Kipfer, Barbara Ann (2012). The Culinarian: A Kitchen Desk Reference. New York: Wiley. p. 401]. ISBN 978-1-118-11061-4.
- Berolzheimer, Ruth (1942). The American Woman's Cook Book. New York: Garden City Publishing. p. 307.
- Alton Brown (1999-08-25). "Gravy Confidential". Good Eats. Season 1. Episode 108. (transcript). Food Network.
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