Kitchen Confidence

How to Make a Roux

By • October 31, 2013 • 5 Comments

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: It's time to get over your fear of the roux.

How to Make a Roux

There are certain things that become a part of a home cook's arsenal: a good roast chicken, some killer scrambled eggs, a perfect apple pie. Knowing how to make a roux should be at the top of this list. From a smooth, creamy béchamel to the base of a gumbo -- not to mention your Thanksgiving gravy -- a roux is a technique to master, to love. It can be intimidating due to the ease with which it can be burned -- and ruined -- but it's nothing that a little practice can't resolve.   

So let's start with the basics.

What is a roux?

A roux is paste that is used as a thickener. It is simply flour cooked in fat. As the proteins in the flour are heated, they expand and disperse evenly throughout the liquid that they are mixed with. Raw flour can be used as a thickening agent; however, cooking the flour first takes away the floury taste and creates a more even and smooth texture. 

How to Make a Roux

First, a fat -- butter, oil, rendered animal fat -- is melted in a heavy-bottomed pan. When it is has been heated, an equal amount of flour is added. The mixture must be stirred constantly, as it will burn very easily, until it has been cooked to the desired color. There are three major categories of roux that are dependent on the length of cooking. A white roux, used commonly in light, creamy sauces like béchamel, has the shortest cooking time. The flour has been lightly browned but it is still very pale in color. Just beyond the white roux is the blonde roux. It is darker in color and can be recognized by the almost nutty smell that develops as the flours continue to brown. The darkest roux the brown roux which, having cooked the longest, has the deepest smell, flavor, and color. One thing to note is that the longer a roux is cooked -- and the darker it becomes -- the less ability it has to thicken. Therefore you will need more of a darker roux to thicken to the same degree than the same quantity of a lighter roux.    

A watched pot never boils but an unwatched roux will always burn.

The thing that is so tricky about making a roux is how many variables there are in the process. For a two-ingredient recipe, there are a shocking amount of outcomes. Heat, type of fat, timing, stirring utensil, even the movement of the cook's arm all contribute to the end result. That being said, there is really only one thing that matters when making a roux: patience. 

This really is one of those slow-and-steady-wins-the-race moments. Start with your fat. Usually, a recipe calling for a roux will tell you what sort of fat to use, as it will affect the flavor so greatly. If it doesn't, a good starting place is butter.

How to Make a Roux

Heat your butter in a heavy pan over low heat. When the butter has melted and the foaming subsides, add your flour. The quantities should be the same. For example, if you use 2 tablespoons of butter, you'll want to use two tablespoons of flour. The moment the flour meets the butter, you'll need to start stirring, either with a whisk or a flat-edged wooden spoon. You will want a utensil that will allow you to keep the mixture moving, to prevent the roux from burning. 

How to Make a Roux

At first, the mixture will be fairly liquid but keep stirring. As it continues to cook, it will thicken into a more paste-like substance. Soon, the color will begin to deepen.

How to Make a Roux

Keep stirring. You will be able to smell the flour cooking -- a warm, pleasant, nutty scent. Keep stirring. The only thing you need to worry about is stirring. 

How to Make a Roux

The amount of time it will take to cook is dependent on many things, your stove, the fat you use, the type of roux your recipe calls for. For instance, a white roux might only take a couple of minutes, whereas a dark roux will take much longer. My mother once took a cooking class down in New Orleans -- the chef swore that the amount of time it takes to make a proper dark roux for a gumbo is equal to the amount of time it takes to drink an entire six pack of beer. The important thing is to take your time. And did I mention, stir?

Once your roux is browned to your liking, add hot stock or milk, continuing to whisk vigorously. And voila, your sauce!

How to Make a Roux

Photos by James Ransom

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Tags: roux, flour, french cooking, soups, sauces

Comments (5)

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7 months ago Casey

Instant roux is a favourite short cut of mine - cook roux to desired stage without adding liquid.
Cool & refrigerate and then grate.
This will keep several weeks in the fridge (longer in the freezer!)
Use straight from fridge or freezer by whisking into hot liquid & cook out for a couple of minutes.

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9 months ago Cookingly Yours

The perfect roux can turn into a perfect lumpy ruin the moment one adds milk or broth. Here's my trick: liquid in room temperature. Take roux off the heat. Add liquid in really small portions (tablespoonwise) and keep stirring. If liquid is measured to a cup I use 1/3 for a good incorporation of liquid/roux off heat. Then return to heat, keep stirring and add the rest of liquid until bechamel or gravy is blobbing.

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9 months ago Patti in Mississippi

I love a dark chocolate colored roux for my gumbo. I make it in the microwave. Equal parts oil and flour. Use a 2 QT glass Measure for 4 cups of roux. Start at about 2 minutes for a couple of times, stirring it well with a whisk in between. Watch that it might boil over in the early stages. Then do it for shorter intervals, stirring each time. Finally get it down to 30 second bits with stirring until it is your perfect color. This may not be that much faster than on the stove but it does save stirring time and it tastes just as good.

You can make a roux with rice flour but it is quite different and doesn't really work well in a gumbo.

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9 months ago molly yeh

will any gluten free flours work in a roux?

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9 months ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I love a good "brick" roux for making gumbo, and my favorite way of making it is in the oven. It takes longer but is mostly hands-off and it's almost burn proof. Cook the fat and flour in a 350-375º F oven and stir every 20ish minutes until you're happy with the color. A dark roux will take about 90 minutes.