Start With A Roux

Start With A Roux

When I was kid I used to watch my Grandmother making gravy for the Thanksgiving dinner.  I don’t quite remember how she did it, but it was pretty cool seeing her in action. She took her gravy making duties quite seriously.  Mashed potatoes were always so much better with “Nanny’s” gravy on ‘em!

Using starch is a very simple way to thicken a gravy or a sauce.

A centuries-old (and very simple) method for starting a pot of gravy is to create what is known as a roux.  (This is likely what my Grandmother used to do.)  A French term pronounced “roo,” it’s a simple thickening agent that consists of just two ingredients:  butter and flour, equal parts of each.  Butter is most commonly used, but a roux can be made from equal parts of flour and almost any fat, including oil, margarine, beef, chicken or bacon drippings, lard or shortening.   And, when I say equal parts, I mean equal by weight.  Typically, either all-purpose flour is used.

The reality is though, that 99 % of the time, it’s not necessary to weigh anything.  Even restaurant chefs don’t bother most of the time.  After you’ve made even your first roux, you’ll never have to worry about correct weights.  If you’re making some simple gravy to compliment your chicken dinner, just start by melting a few tablespoons of butter on medium heat.  When it’s melted, add what you consider to be about the same amount of flour.  Mix them together and cook it for about three – four minutes or so… stirring as it cooks and just long enough for the starchy flavour to be cooked out.  It should form a kind of paste that coats the back of the spoon.  Then, slowly start adding your chicken broth or stock and see how it reacts.  You’ll soon figure out if it’s too thick, too thin, or what have you.  You can always make more roux in another small pot or pan and add it to the gravy if you need to thicken it some more.   Or, if it’s too thick, add more broth, or even some water.  All of this is improved upon by experience.

There are three types of roux, but I’m probably getting a little too technical for most home cooking applications.  However, a white roux is cooked for just a few minutes, before it begins to brown.  This is what you want for your lighter gravies.  For darker gravies (or sauces) you can cook the roux a little longer and make a blond roux.  If you’re making an even darker gravy, such as a beef gravy, cook it a touch longer until it darkens.  You’ll need to turn the heat down to low or it will be burn.  You’ll notice a nutty, earthy aroma from the brown roux.  This one however, will have less thickening power than the white or blond roux, so you’ll need more.

When you have the quantity and thickness part finalized, then start building your flavours.

Pound ‘er down!

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