Don't get me wrong...I love Cajun/Creole food as much as the next guy, maybe more. But with so many of the dishes relying on the inclusion of a good, rich, soul-satisfying roux, and proper roux taking so long to make, it means that not as much Cajun food gets eaten as should be eaten. Back in my chef days, I was frustrated that it took so long to make a roux, since we only had a 6-burner to make it on. Our menu changed daily, meaning there was always a lot of activity on that 6-burner, and using one burner for several hours of slow stirring presented a couple of problems: 1. you're down one burner for a couple of hours, and 2. you're stirring a big pan of roux instead of the 3 dozen other things that need doing. Most regular kitchens have a herd of task monkeys running around doing whatever needs to be done...our kitchen was tiny and the labor costs had to be kept low, so herds of helpers were out of the question. In our world, roux making had to be done by the chef...there was no other way around it.
The epiphany happened one day when some flour from a breaded pork steak fell on the hot stove top, and as the busy night progressed, I watched that little bit of flour take on a chestnut brown color. I had a flash! The flour in a roux is basically "roasting" in oil on the stovetop....why couldn't you dry-roast the flour in the oven before you combined it with the oil? I had stumbled on to a way to greatly reduce the amount of time a roux takes to make, but it needed testing.
I took a baking pan and filled it halfway with plain flour, set the oven to 325º and let it go. Periodically I would check it out, and the flour very slowly started to turn a light tan. I would stir it periodically, and in doing so, noticed that the flour was starting to clump-up as it roasted. After 45 minutes or an hour or so, the flour started to get a nice nutty aroma and it acquired a tan about the color of a manila paper towel. I pulled it out and let it cool enough to handle. I ran it all through a fine sieve to break up any clumps (and it does get clumpified). The main part of the test was now ready to run.
I got a large skillet hot, threw in some clarified duck fat, bacon grease, and oil, and whisked in my roasted flour. I instantly had a roux that was about the color it is when you really have to start watching it closely...when it starts getting dark quickly, and it's almost done. A few more minutes, and I added my Holy Trinity of diced green bell pepper, celery, onion (and garlic). Literally 10 minutes later I was stirring a thick, dark roux that was the color of a dark mahogany. The aroma was rich and nutty, and when added to a Pontchartrain sauce, duck and andouille gumbo, shrimp and crawfish jambalaya, or anything else we came up with, the flavor was magnificent.
It freezes well, and keeps a long time in the fridge when it's sealed with a layer of fat and tightly covered. Pre-roasting the flour, as far as I can tell, has no ill effects on the flavor or texture of the roux, but eliminates about 85 to 90% of the drudgery and time. It also lessens the chance that it will scorch, since the whole procedure gets compressed into a 15 minute span, and you're able to focus on the task at hand. It's the only way I make roux now: pre-roast the flour, crank out a big batch of roux, portion it into freezer bags, and have enough to last for many different dishes, with very little effort. Laissez les bon ton (and good food) rouler!
Mick Vann ©