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Making Gumbo - Roux and what am I doing wrong?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
I used equal parts of vegetable oil and flour (one cup each,) and cooked in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat for about an hour. I achieved a very dark colored mixture which tasted just on the verge of burnt. The recipe calls for 4 Tbls to be heated and stock mixed in. The issue is the Roux doesn't completely combine into the gumbo. Little globules rise to the top float there. I'm not certain I didn't go too far in the cooking but the color change was very gradual and i didn't see any indication of it burning. Once cooled the oil separates somewhat and the thick mixture is almost like tar and very messy to clean up. Does this sound familiar to anyone:)


post #2 of 26

Roux info

I'll be glad to help. Well personally I was taught in my high school culinary class to use butter when making roux and have stuck with it since I learned it it is also important to use a wooden spoon while cooking your roux (metal will impart a slight metallic taste and contribute to off color). Roux cooked 5-10 minutes will give you a white roux which will produce a very bland flavor but contributes to thickening greatly.Roux cooked 20-30 minutes will produce a brown roux which will give you more flavor but less thidkening properties.Roux cooked 45-60 minutes will give you a dark/black roux which has great flavor but barely any thickening attributes. I hope this information will be helpfull to you.

Good luck
post #3 of 26
Thread Starter 
Thanks, I also read somewhere that when mixing stock to roux it's best to do it when just warm and not hot. I think that might have also been a problem. Next time I'll try butter and not so hot when mixing together. BTW... the Gumbo was ok.. real deep flavors but I didn't like the way the okra turned out.. I used frozen and will try fresh next go round..
post #4 of 26
Your roux was slightly overcooked -- for the pupose. It separated because the flour became so toasted it couldn't even hold oil.

You can make a perfectly good roux with oil, it doesn't have to be butter. The "best" choice depends on what you're doing with the roux. By and large I'd say butter is the better choice. Or is that better is the butter choice? I'm easily confused. But when it comes to gumbo, etouffes and other cajun stews -- oil is the most common choice.

Of course it all depends on what you're trying to do, but "peanut butter" (a light to medium brown) is probably about as far as you want to take your roux. That is, at least until you have a good handle on making gumbos.

Darker rouxs have different, deeper tastes; but as resident1fan said, darker rouxs don't thicken as well as lighter ones. It's better to start with something that responds well to a more basic skill level.

FWIW, the technical term for a light roux is "blonde," and not "white." Not that "white" is wrong -- it's a regional (and technical) thing. "Peanut butter" is also a technical term -- at least in Cajun cuisine.

You can combine roux and liquid in the following ways:
  • Hot roux into hot (simmering) liquid;
  • Hot liquid over hot roux;
  • Cool liquid (initially added in small stages -- whisked until it heats and thickens) over hot roux; and
  • Cool roux into hot liquid.
What you cannot do is combine cool roux with cool liquid or you'll get lumps. Warm roux combined with warm liquid isn't much better.

When adding stock to roux (which is usually how gumbo is made), even using hot stock, it's best to add a little at a time and whisk each addition until it's fully thickened and smooth. Most cooks use a high flame, and moderate the temperature of the mix by adding the simmering, warm or cool liquid. After you've got your gumbo just a tad thinner than your desired consistency you can reduce the heat to a bare simmer and let 'er cook.

Generally speaking, roux thickens best at the boil. If you add hot or cool roux to a pot of liqud. A short period of boiling and mixing -- two or three minutes -- is a good idea with a blonde, peanut butter, or medium brown roux. However a boil will break a darker roux -- which is quite likely what happened to you.

Hope this helps,
post #5 of 26
Thread Starter 
Great info! Thanks..

post #6 of 26
I pretty agree with BDL and want to really press the point about butter vs. oil in a roux. You can really use either as they act in the same way. The fat you use will contribute some flavor (as in butter) or lack thereof (as in vegetable oil). When making a lighter roux I almost always choose butter as I feel the butter helps to enrich the dish, but when it comes to making dark rouxs I usually choose oil as the solids in butter can burn at the high temperatures reached in making dark rouxs. Heck you could even use bacon fat or duck fat, to make a roux, if you want. In fact, that is basically what you are doing when you sprinkle flour into browning meat, before adding liquid. Your choice of fat to make your roux really depends on the application and the final product you desire.
post #7 of 26
Slghtly off-topic here, but isn't File powder (powdered sassafrass leaf) traditionally used as a thickener in combination with roux for gumbo? And does fresh okra also have some thickening power as well?
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #8 of 26
You are right Chef .!Gumbo File Powder is used both to flavour and thicken. Most people not familiar with it use it wrong. It should be added after gumbo is cooked, as if you boil it it breaks and gets stringy. It does not lend itself to freezing either. It thickens fairly clear more like a starch over a flour. Hope this helps.:chef:
post #9 of 26
Hi there,

When I'm making my gumbo I start by making a walnut roux (1/2c. oil, 3/4c. flour). Once it has reached the desired color I add my sausage, then the trinity, then a few tablespoons of Cajun seasoning. I cook the trinity down until the vegetables are a bit softened, stirring frequently.

After this I get my 8c. of stock together ( I've been using 4c. chicken stock and 4 c. shrimp stock). I add maybe 1/2 cup of stock to my hot roux/trinity mixture. Like BDL and others have said...mix completely and thoroughly. Then I'll add 1/2c. more mixing completely before adding the next 1/2c. I'll mix in 1/2 cup increments until I get to the 4 cup mark. After this time my mixture is really smooth and quite thin. I'll then add the remaining 4 cups of stock, bring to boil and turn down to a simmer. Once the pot is at a simmer I'll add a couple of bay leaves and drop in any browned chicken thighs (if I'm using chicken). Then I simmer for 2 (ish) hours. Later I'll add the seafood etc to finish.

The areas that I think can really make a difference is a good homemade stock (whichever type) and a nicely smoked sausage really adds to the dish. I add rice to the bottom of a bowl, ladle the gumbo over the top and sprinkle on some file' powder.

Yum Yum Yum!
post #10 of 26
One more thing regarding okra and file powder. They are both used as thickeners and thus never used together. File is normally used in winter when fresh okra is not available. That's where the term "file gumbo" comes from. Gumbo using okra is usually just called "gumbo".
post #11 of 26
cool idea to add file powder to each bowl individually
post #12 of 26
I cannot resist a gumbo thread!

Just a slightly different approach from gonefishin's--just to show the versatility, you know? I hope this isn't too much information. I like the "'splain it to me like I'm six" sort of explanation for things that seem complicated.

The way I learned it (down here in Creole country) was to start with equal parts oil and flour. 3/4 cup of each is a good amount for an 8-quart gumbo batch.

Before you start the roux, though, in another stock pot put a whole chicken (cleaned of course, and no giblets of any sort) along with another chicken carcass or two you've been saving in the freezer if you have them, plus a couple of quarts of water and a glug of vinegar. Poach that, remove the whole chicken when done, remove meat from the bones and stick the meat in the fridge for the gumbo or something else, return the skin and bones to the stock pot. Turn it to low and leave it on the heat. You can go to the next step now or even allow it to simmer on very low for an hour or two.

When your chicken stock is on it's way to getting good and rich, chop up the veggies for the trinity so they're handy when you need them. When you need them you're gonna need them RIGHT THEN. Get a drink in a big glass, the phone, maybe the TV remote or somethng to read, and prepare to stand right at the stove stirring until the roux is done, come **** or high water. You will not be able to move away from the stove while the roux is browning. Get comfy. This is very important.

Then start making your roux. Oil and flour in the pot on medium heat to start, plus a wooden spoon with a long handle. I use the gumbo pot to do the roux in. The secret to a good dark nutty roux is to keep the stuff in the pot moving at all times. If it sits in one spot on the bottom of the pan too long it will scorch and you'll need to start over. To get mine to a dark brown (I can easily manage very dark chocolate brown with my gas stove without scorching, only about milk chocolate brown or so if I'm stuck with an electric one), I allow about 30 minutes more or less. If you go more slowly you run less risk of actually burning it. Contrary to apparent popular belief around here lately, you CAN get a nearly black roux without a burnt flavor if you're careful. This takes a lot of patience and a bit of practice. I use the tall pot because if I smell it getting too hot I actually tip the pot off the burner toward me for a couple of stirs to further regulate the temp even faster than my gas stove can respond. Yes, this slows things down, but I find it's worth it. As the roux really begins to take on rich color, I end up doing a rhythmic sort of stirring routine: Around the edge, through the middle, back across the other way, tip the pot, scrape up the roux across the bottom, stirring the deep part, tip the pot back flat, start again. turn down the heat if you need to but keep stirring. You'll find a method that works for you.

When the roux is as dark as I can get it, or I'm just so dang tired of stirring I declare it done, I quickly throw in the vegtable trinity and stir that really well together and turn the burner to low. At this point you can wander off and only stir all that occasionally. My recipe says to let this part cook for 45 minutes, and I usually do. It will smell just great. Then I add sliced smoked sausage and let that brown a bit and soak up some flavor, and then it's time for the chicken stock which is already hot on the stove. Just strain it and pour it on top of the other stuff. Stir well and you're good to go with the rest of your gumbo recipe. I add bay leaf, thyme, tabasco, a can of diced tomatoes, some tomato paste, some worchestershire, plus either bacon or diced smoked ham for flavoring, plus salt and pepper at this point.

Now this may well be heresy in my neck of the woods so don't tell anybody who you heard it from, but once the stock and veggie roux stuff plus the seasoning is well combined and simmering away, I toss in a full bag of frozen sliced okra. No, I do not even thaw it first. I just fling it in with impunity. If you keep the whole shebang at a low simmer, it will all come back up to temp and blend together just fine, no globules of floury roux stuff at all. Let that simmer for an hour or two and there will be no sliminess but your gumbo will be nice and dark with good body.

Once all that is done I add the other ingredients as applicable. The chicken can go in here if you're using it. Let that simmer until the chicken (or duck if that's what you're using) is hot through before adding any seafood. If I'm using crab bodies they go in next and simmer for a bit to impart flavor. Then oysters if using, and shrimp last. I cook it only until the shrimp is nearly the right color.

A scoop of rice in the bottom of the bowl and gumbo spooned over. Ratio of rice to gumbo? About 1:4. File if using gets sprinkled on top at the table.

Happy eating!
post #13 of 26
Can one make a roux by baking the flour and fat mix in the oven? No stirring involved, I would imagine.

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #14 of 26
You can pre-toast the flour (not a bad idea), which would be a convenient shortcut. Unfortunately, can not effectively incorporate the flour without a lot of stirring. Every grain of flour must be (equally) coated with the fat.

post #15 of 26
You'll see this one aroud but it's A HIGH DANGER method. Use the microwave in a heatproof glass container (pyrex). High power in 30 second bursts, then stir with a wooden tool, repeat.

Many dangers:

The glass can explode through thermal shock if it comes into contact with water when you remove it from the microwave. Or even a sufficiently heat conductive surface. You MUST put in on something DRY and with good insulating properties.

Scratches/chips in the glass can cause the glass to break/shatter, again through thermal stress.

It's VERY fast, just a few minutes but there are some real risks.

I've only done it once and would do it every time if there was a container better for this purpose than even Pyrex glass.

Cook's illustrated played around with this technique too and had a few Pyrex explosions.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #16 of 26
Yes, pre-toasting the flour is what made me think of doing it all in the oven. But if that would work and be easy, it would probably be a very common method.

With the cooler weather moving into Utah I'll be making more hot soups and stews, most likely a batch of gumbo. Guess I'll continue to stir, and stir, and ...

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #17 of 26
Ha! Don't be a fool like me. Remember to turn the oven fan off when browning your flour in an oven.:blush:
...learn from your mistakes lol.
post #18 of 26
For gumbo you can make a peanut roux using peanut oil and flour. Cook it wearing oven mits and use a wooden spoon. When the roux is golden, milk chocolate brown, take it off the heat and place the pan in a sink with ice to stop it cooking further (which it will do and will burn). Then use the roux to thicken the chicken stock base for your gumbo.
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
post #19 of 26
...but it won't thicken the chx base if you did it right.
post #20 of 26
???? I don't understand what you're trying to say.
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
post #21 of 26
Paul Prudhomme made chicken andouille gumbo with a red/brown close to burnt as it goes. In goes spices then trinity then stock....meats. I don't cook the veg more than 5-10 minutes then add stock.

Personally (well and most of the people I was around in Cajun country, 1980-1994) did not use tomatoes. Okra went into seafood gumbo. File was on the table for those that wanted it. Well and of course hot sauce, either Crystal or Tabasco.

Chef Paul served his family gumbo over potato salad....
he also browned flour in the oven when he was loosing weight.....seive it after it comes out as it cakes/lumps.

When making seafood gumbo add the shrimp/crab/oysters, what have you....into each serving. In other words don't over cook the shellfish. Only heat enough for dinner. Keep back the extra soup to add seafood to another day.

Chicken/sausage, well that's another matter. It gets better after sitting a day or two. IMO
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #22 of 26
That is great information, shroomgirl; appreciate it.
I should invest in some chef Paul books :P

I've made gumbo many times, but have never been to LA, so it's hard for me to authentically replicate a dish I've never had in it's "place of origin". I'm sure others can relate.

On a technical note, my last post was a bit ambiguous: doesn't heating up flour diminish it's thickening attributes? I've always been told that and I believe that I've seen it too.
But for my sake, pembroke's, and others, can someone verify?

Sorry, pembroke; that's what I was trying to say: a cooked, dark roux isn't used to thicken a dish, it's used to flavor a dish.

Please, someone correct me if I am wrong. thx

edit: spelling
post #23 of 26
Hi left4bread,

You are indead right about the brown roux having more flavour than white or blond roux.
It's primary purpose being to add flavour and secondry as a thickening agent. I presonally haven't made brown roux/gumbo in 20 odd years but can still remember wearing oven mits to non-stop stir the **** thing:)

I found the info below on the net.

All About Roux - Allrecipes

Dark Brown Roux

Even darker than the preceding brown roux, dark brown roux is cooked approximately 45 minutes until it is the color of melted milk chocolate. Its aroma is mellower than the strong, roasted flavor of brown roux, and will actually smell a little like chocolate. This stage has the least thickening power of all four; its main purpose is as a flavoring agent with thickening secondary.
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
Cooking sous vide at Cambridge's third oldest College
post #24 of 26
A few remarks. I'm not from Louisiana, but my father-in-law is a professional chef in New Orleans, and we've discussed these issues.

Making Roux
1. Cook slowly for a long time in cast iron. Works fine, very traditional, very easy to control.

2. Cook slowly for a long time in cast iron in a medium oven (about 300 or so), stirring every 15 minutes. Works fine, fairly traditional, can burn suddenly if you're not careful.

3. Microwave. Very dangerous; I do not advise this at all.

4. The modern system, used in most restaurants, invented by Paul Prudhomme. Bring your fat (any high-heat fat will do -- not whole butter or virgin olive oil, but lard, vegetable oil, etc.) over high heat (medium-high if your range is a dragon) to the first hint of smoking. Start whisking medium-fast (don't splash on yourself) as you add an equal amount of flour, about a third at a time. Be sure to eliminate all lumps fairly rapidly. Continue stirring continuously -- not continually, or often, but constantly, no stopping. In about 3-5 minutes, the mixture will be red-brown, and a blonde roux comes quicker. Don't try for a black roux until you have good experience with this. To cool your roux, you can either cook vegetables in it (the Trinity, usually) or else remove from heat and whisk constantly. In either case, it will get darker, so be sure to stop just before it reaches the color you really want.

Note that if at any point in making the roux you get little black dots, it's burnt and you must throw it away. There is no saving it.

Binding Roux
Medium-hot roux and rapidly-simmering stock is generally best, I find. Add the roux to the simmering stock by generous spoonfuls and whisk or stir constantly to eliminate any lumps before adding more. For an etouffee sauce or the like, which is much thicker, it is just as easy to add the stock to the roux, but be careful that (a) the pan isn't blazing hot, and (b) you have enough room in the pan to handle all the mixture. The process is in this case much like making sauce bechamel, adding the simmering milk all at once to the hot roux. If you are getting stuff floating on the top, it didn't bind, which could be because it's burnt and could be because it wasn't added effectively; the way to tell the difference is if the result tasted distinctly bitter, in which case it was burnt.

Yes, the darker the roux, the less it will thicken. (There are some differences of opinion about exactly how the process works, but it seems clear that the long protein chains in the flour start to break down.) A black roux, as for a Cajun seafood gumbo, will thicken almost not at all; a light-brown roux will thicken a great deal. But this does not make bits of roux float to the surface: that is, as noted before, a binding problem or a burning problem.
post #25 of 26
I've always been told add hot to cold or vice versa, but really haven't seen any adverse affects from not doing that. Well, at least, I've added warm to warm or hot to hot without any clumping.
Right now there's a recipe for chowder that I tweaked: about 6 gallons of liquid and we add a blond roux to it but I have them mix it (immersion mix) with the cream before adding it to the "base". The recipe used to take 3 pots to make, but I nerfed it for stove space. Is that ridiculous? I'm just trying to streamline. And it beats people standing over the chowder with a whisk saying "i'm just gonna beat out the roux balls"... ya, sure you are...
post #26 of 26
I know that most chefs in New Orleans add hot roux by spoonfuls to simmering soup.

If adding liquid to roux, I use a traditional system for bechamel: bring the liquid to a simmer, remove the roux from heat, add all the liquid at once, whisk until smooth, return to heat. Seems to work well -- no lumps.
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