We were at the lake this past week for a family trip. I was fully prepared for the typical family knock down, drag out arguments that typically occur when you’re in tight spaces with family for extended periods of time.
Shockingly, not one occurred. Unless you count the baby cousins poking each other all week lol. It was raining much of the time, so we were inside playing rounds and rounds of Settlers of Catan, Spades, Hearts, Clue (We like Risk but Dad and I are not allowed to play anymore after aforementioned knock down drag outs!)
My brother James was making my son his favorite–macaroni and cheese, but not from the box as my 8 year old loves. James pulls out pots and casserole dishes, and with older sisterly “observation,” I oh so casually asked how he intended to make the macaroni and cheese. Like he couldn’t see right through me.
Now James can cook. We grew up cooking together. We were latch key kids to a single mom, so we bonded over making “snacks” together after school. Our snacks became elaborate meals–and this was before the prolific Food Network shows or ubiquitous internet cooking blogs, so we learned by trial and error, finding ideas in Highlights Magazine and making several course meals. Good times.
So James is in the cooking, and we don’t have any flour, so he brilliantly decided to melt cheese and milk together, whisk, and add some pancake mix to thicken it. Maybe he belongs on Chopped?This led to a white sauce/cheese sauce and roux conversation with our Dad and my sister in law (who very sweetly thought a roux was the burnt rice that goes on gumbo–she doesn’t cook and proudly so).
But my dad, brother and I each see ourselves as more than competent home cooks. I am the MOST competent because I have three kids and watch the most Food Network. Bam. Maybe it has something to do with being the know-it-all eldest child?
So here I am, sweetly asking if he every considered starting with a traditional roux and white sauce, which is more traditional for mac and cheese. He says to me, “I always burn a roux.”
I thought, what?? You know how to cook. I taught you how to cook. How do you burn a roux?
Well, he insisted he couldn’t do it, and I didn’t want to risk wigs on the green over mac and cheese, but explained the basics of a roux, and let me tell you, the name is the most complicated thing about it.
Equal Part Flour + Equal Part Fat = Roux
Favorite fats I use in order:
- Butter (the easiest go to)
- Bacon fat (I save it in a mason jar in the fridge)
- Sausage fat
- Ham fat
- Duck fat (you can actually buy it)
- Oils–i’ve seen some people use it but I don’t recommend it personally-oils go rancid more easily and have a low smoke point generally, so you may actually burn your roux
To make a small amount of sauce or gravy, use 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of your fat of choice.
As it melts in the pan, whisk it to combine with the flour
You will get a white paste.
Eventually it will bubble.
Cook for about a minute; It may turn slightly darker.
Add chicken stock or warm milk, and you have the base of a sauce that can go in a million directions!
Don’t Burn Your Roux
- Keep the temperature at medium low or medium; don’t be impatient. This only takes a couple minutes.
- Constantly whisk. I use a roux whisk but any whisk or even a fork will do.
- Cook for 1-2 minutes. We aren’t trying to kill it, just cook the flour taste out, and it’s accomplished quickly
- Keep your warm liquid (milk, stock, etc) nearby to immediately dump and whisk. Sometimes people burn their roux because they are fumbling for the next step or next ingredient to add–don’t be this person. Be prepared.
Why cook the roux: If you don’t, your finished dish may taste like raw flour.
Why start with the roux versus adding flour at the end to thicken it: If you don’t, your finished dish may taste like raw flour.
Roux + Milk = Béchamel
Béchamel (Roux+Milk) + cheese = Mornay Sauce
Roux + Rich Stock = Espagnole
Roux (or Egg Yolk+Cream) + Light Stock = Veloute
Roux + Tomatoes = Tomate
Lot’s of fancy french words, super easy to do.
So in James’ case, he should have started with a béchamel sauce, added cheese to make a mornay, and add salt, pepper, a dash of nutmeg, and pour over pasta.
But for the sake of family peace, I let him do it his way, and truth is, it turned out great!