Monday, October 13, 2008

How to Make a Roux with Marcelle Bienvenu

I had the pleasure of traveling to Louisiana last year to explore the food of Cajun country. My tour guide was one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject -- Marcelle Bienvenu (she's the gorgeous woman in the photo at right). Marcelle's illustrious gastronomical career includes stints at Commander's Palace, Brennan's, and other top New Orleans restaurants; owning her own restaurant in Lafayette (Chez Marcelle); authoring books on her own and with culinary superstar Emeril Lagasse; and penning a popular column, Cooking Creole, for the New Orleans Times Picayune.

Since rouxs are such an important part of Cajun and Creole cuisine, Marcelle agreed to teach our readers her foolproof method for creating a perfect roux. She also shared her recipes for some Cajun classics (links below).

To non Cajuns, rouxs can seem mysterious. Heck northerners often don't even know how to pronounce the word (roo), let alone how to make a roux.

But according to Marcelle Bienvenu, too many people have made too big a deal out of what is really a simple process, thereby intimidating the uninitiated.

A roux is nothing more than flour and fat, cooked together to form a flavorful thickening agent for cooking. Rouxs are used to thicken gumbos, stews, fricassees and other hearty Cajun dishes. Marcelle's mom's elementary Cajun cooking lesson was always, "If you make a roux, you have a stew."

"Paul Prudhomme fries his roux," says Marcelle, "but this is tricky and if you get it wrong you have a burned mess. The trick to making a good roux is to do it slow and easy."

Marcelle prefers cast iron for making roux, but she admits you can also use stainless steel cookware. Nonstick cookware just doesn't work well for making rouxs.

Block out a little time to make your roux. Marcelle warns that once you begin the roux making process you cannot even THINK about leaving it on the stove. Marcelle playfully claims that family members could have died writhing and screaming on the kitchen floor and still her mother wouldn't abandon stirring the cooking roux.

Microwave Roux
In addition to the method below, you can brown flour for roux in a microwave - start with equal parts oil (Marcelle uses regular vegetable oil) and flour. Cook the mixture, stopping to stir every 5 seconds or so, until browned to your liking.

Make Extra
You can make lots of roux, Marcelle usually does. Keep what you don't use in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator for up to three months.

Making Roux Step by Step

1. Using a heavy cast iron skillet, heat equal parts oil and flour over medium heat (you can use the oil of your choice -- Marcelle used vegetable oil. You can also use lard like they did in the old days.

2. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture, incorporating the flour into the oil and stirring until the mixture becomes smooth.

3. Once the oil begins to foam, it begins to brown. Watch it carefully and stir constantly. When making roux, don't even THINK about leaving it. There's a fine line between a perfectly cooked roux and a burned mess and constant stirring is the key.

4. Rouxs can be used at various stages of cooking -- from lightly golden to deep nutty brown. Your recipe will usually specify. The darker the roux, the more pronounced nutty flavor it will have. The photo below shows this advanced stage of cooking the roux.

Authentic Cajun Recipes from Marcelle Bienvenu
During my trip, I actually got to cook with Marcelle, in her own kitchen on the beautiful Bayou Teche. Each of the recipes includes step-by-step photos so you'll have no trouble recreating the Cajun Queen's recipes in your own kitchen.
More About Marcelle Bienvenu
The petite chef with the engaging smile maintains that she never intended to be in the food business. Fate intervened and soon after graduating from the University of Southwestern Louisiana she was offered an opportunity to work as a contributor to the Acadian-Creole foods edition of the the Time-Life Foods of the World series. That lead to an illustrious gastronomical career. Click here for Cheri's profile of Marcelle Bienvenu.

Check out Marcelle's book:

Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux?
This book was so popular its original publisher sold out. After long being out of print, Acadian House has lovingly republished Marcelle Bienvenu's classic Cajun cookbook.

Fans of Cajun and Creole cuisine will delight in the more than 200 recipes. Many are for well known Cajun classics. Others are more obscure to the uninitiated. But all are authentic recipes culled from Marcelle Bienvenu's life in the heart of Acadian Louisiana.

With its unique combination of recipes interspersed with Marcelle's family photos and essays, the book is an almost voyeuristic view into the author's family history. And like the histories of many Cajun families, its memories are intimately linked with food. It's a terrific bonus, for in addition to a terrific repertoire of authentic Cajun recipes, readers will come away with a fascinating insight into the Cajun way of life in Louisiana, both then and now.

Click here for more information or to order through


Pam said...

Thanks for the informative post. You make it looks so easy.

Cheri Sicard said...

It really isn't that hard Pam. The only real secret, as Marcelle says, is not to walk away -- keep stirring! So while it's not hard, it takes a little bit of time where you have to pay attention. Make lots at once, keep it in a jar in the fridge, and you cut lots of cooking time off future Cajun (and other) recipes.

Kevin said...

Nice post on roux. I will have to remember to make extra and try keeping it in the fridge.

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