Making a Basic Roux for Chowders and Gravies

Roux (“roo“) is a cooking mixture of flour and fat (usually butter), used as a thickener for soups and sauces, with roots dating back more than 300 years in French cuisine.

Made by combining and cooking a flour and oil paste until the raw flavor of the flour cooks out and the roux has achieved the desired color, a properly cooked roux imparts silky-smooth body and a nutty flavor while thickening soups and sauces.

Cornstarch mixed with water (slurry), arrowroot, and other ingredients can be used in place of roux, but they don’t add any flavor to the dish, and are only used for their thickening properties.

Making gravies, sauces, and roux-based stews can be intimidating at first, but building a roux is actually a remarkably simple process that leads to many wonderful dishes.

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This week, in your SimplySmartDinnerPlans, you’ll see a recipe for Mushroom and Potato Chowder (which is awesome, btw), that starts out with a roux, but the first few steps could be used for basically any thickened sauce or gravy.

1. In a large kettle, saute onions over medium heat, in butter until tender.

2. Add flour, salt, pepper (and any other spices); stir to make a crumbled paste. By the way, if you’re not working off a recipe, a good rule of thumb is to start with equal parts fat (butter, drippings, etc) to flour.

3. Cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes until roux begins to turn golden and gives off a nutty aroma (this step is KEY to cooking off the “flour-y” taste, and creating a deep, rich flavor.)

4. Gradually add water, broth, meat drippings, or milk/cream (I recommend one of the latter), starting very slowly (1/4 cup at a time) stirring constantly to keep smooth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute.

One trick my Dad taught me, while working with him at one of the restaurants, was to warm whatever liquid you’re using to just steaming. This keeps the roux from cooling (stopping the cooking process) each time you add liquid to it.

Depending on the broth/drippings, you now have an awesome gravy. Flavor check for salt, herbs, and/or spices, and it’s ready to serve.

For stews, or chowders, this is where you’d start adding all the goodies, and a bit more liquid (usually stock) to thin. (FYI…use bottled clam juice for the liquid, and you have the base of an amazing clam chowder.)

From here, we’ll stick with the Mushroom and Potato Chowder (just be thinking of all of the substitution you could be making along the way.)

4. Add the mushrooms, celery, potatoes and carrots.

5. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

6. Add cream and Parmesan cheese; heat through, and serve.

Congratulations, you can now make stew, chowder, and gravy!

If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll now spend the rest of your life perfecting them…