‘First you make a roux.’ Those five words are enough to make even the most accomplished cooks cower in fear and turn the page in a cookbook. Now you know I love cookbooks as literature. I’ve warned you to beware that when ladies are sharing ‘held in the vault family recipes’ there is almost always a teeny tiny technique or one absolutely critical ingredient that is inadvertently left out. I firmly believe it. I have wrestled a mouth watering recipe from an amazing cook more than once, only to find myself saying- ‘Well, mine was good but darlin’ nobody can make it like you do!’ – that’s music to her ear! She knows it isn’t as good as hers because she left out at least one tiny little detail.
It’s tradition. It ain’t right, but some secrets are meant to be kept intact, like- ‘First you make a roux.’ They know most folks can’t make it. A real roux isn’t just a flour paste, I cringe when I see cooking show chefs mix flour and butter together into a pale sickly looking flour paste- and call it a roux. A flour paste is pale and the basis for a bechamel sauce or a white sauce- I repeat, this is not a real roux. A real roux is magic, it adds an indefinable layer of flavor. A real roux takes a good long while if you do it right.
You brown the flour and bacon grease to just the right shade of dark chocolate brown, like in the pan above. It’s not too pretty but it’s gonna taste amazing. If it is too pale, well it tastes like raw flour. On the other hand, if it turns brownish black- Here is what you might read in the recipe- ‘First you make a roux by stirring flour and bacon grease together into a dark brown paste. If it burns, throw it out and start all over.’
- Turn the page.
- Run, don’t walk.
- Who has time for this?
So, I’m going to share a secret for making a real roux.
- Spread all purpose flour on parchment paper in a shallow layer on a baking sheet
- Brown the raw flour in a 350 degree oven until dark golden brown, about 3-5 minutes shaking every so often.
- Put flour in a jar with a tight fitting lid if you make recipes calling for a roux often-
- Or use a zip lock bag for the browned flour in the freezer. This is what it looks like:
If you ever run across a recipe that calls for a real roux, honey you are ready for it! You still have to hover over it a bit when you stir it into bacon grease in a medium heat pan, now, don’t get all healthy on me here! Bacon Grease is a gift from the cooking goddesses. If you mix it this way with the oven browned flour, most of the hard work is done. Another tip: any decent Creole or Cajun food which calls for a roux will almost always have the trinity of sautéed chopped onion, diced bell pepper and chopped celery. There are dozens and dozens of recipes for Jambalaya and Gumbo out there, yours will have that magic unmistakable flavor if you make a real roux with the sautéed trinity. Here’s what a jambalaya looks like with a browned roux –
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m anywhere near the Big Easy, the first thing I want is a batch of Beignets at Café du Monde with a strong cup of chicory coffee- pure heaven on the table! With all the talk of Mardi Gras, I’ve been dying for some Beignets!
Now, there are shortcuts and there are shortcuts- some shortcuts like browning the flour in the oven for a real roux actually makes sense. This shortcut will not result in the unmistakable flavor and ambience of Café du Monde; it will satisfy a craving pretty quick and it makes no sense at all! A lot of cooks wouldn’t dream of buying canned biscuits that you whomp on the edge of a counter for morning biscuits.. Southern cooks often sneak them in their grocery buggy, then hide them again in back of the refrigerator. Why? Because actually plain cheap canned biscuits are one of the South’s Secret Ingredients. Let’s get this clear first-I wouldn’t touch canned biscuits for breakfast, brunch or a buffet, only real hand cut biscuits will do. As a crust for Fried Pies-canned biscuits rolled out, filled with rehydrated dried peaches or apples, crimped around the edges, then fried in shallow oil- canned biscuit dough comes out perfect every time!
And… you can make a passable Faux Beignet if you take round canned biscuit dough-
- Flatten it slightly
- Trim it into a square
- Pop it into hot oil
- Let the square dough rise to the top
- Turn and brown on the other side
- Drain on paper towels
- Dust heavily with powdered sugar.
The secret to Faux Beignets is to buy the plain cheap kind of dough, not the ‘buttery’ or the ‘flaky’ or the ‘buttermilk’ canned biscuits. Like I said, it’s not New Orleans or Café du Monde but these Faux Beignets are real close to the real deal. And if you’re feeling ambitious, poke a hole in the center of each canned biscuit– fry as for the Faux Beignet and dust with either powdered sugar or a mix of cinnamon sugar for Faux Donut. Hey, it’s Fried dough with sugar, I double dog dare you to try it. Yum!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine, but on the bright side- the food was made right here at Camellia’s Cottage!