Creating a steaming batch of chowder, thick sauce or gumbo will find you poised over a skillet, a whisk in one hand and a drink in the other, as you stir and stir a simple thickener.
Roux is a simple combination of flour, fat and heat, made by combining any warm fat—butter, oil, duck fat—with all-purpose flour and stirring it constantly over a medium-low flame. The only rule is to keep it from burning.
Most recipes call for a 1:1 ratio, but professionals eyeball it. One source says to add flour until the mixture looks like “wet sand at low tide.”
Once it starts to warm, the flour will absorb the fat and start to turn creamy. At this point, keep it over the heat long enough for it to take on the color and fragrance you need.
Cook for just a few minutes, until the ingredients are combined and the mixture has lost its raw flour smell, but before it’s taken on any color. This roux will thicken without adding flavor, making it perfect for cream gravies or casseroles.
Cook for a little longer, until it’s more fragrant and the mixture is a creamy yellow. Use to thicken béchamel sauce, chowders and cream-based soups.
This is the stuff of Cajun cuisine and will form the base of your New Year’s Day gumbo. Cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring until the mixture is deep brown and nutty.
Toast flour in the oven without fat, until it’s deep brown, for an alternative gumbo thickener. Then whisk it into a cup or two of your cooking liquid before incorporating into the gumbo.