I can still picture standing in the kitchen my first summer in an apartment, talking on the phone with my mother. I called her a lot to ask how to do things!
I just wanted the recipe for cream of potato soup, one of my favorites, and there she was explaining how to make a “roux” that can be used in other recipes… I rolled my eyes.
“Mo-om!” (You know, the two-syllable “Mom” that teenagers use in exasperation. I was still young enough to use that tone of voice.) “I only want the recipe, plain and simple. You don’t need to give me a whole cooking lesson.“
Well! Now I will tell anyone I know that learning to make a roux (pronounced “roo” like Kanga) is a really easy, important step in cooking things from scratch.
It’s the basis for not only my favorite childhood soup, but also wanna-be Pasta-Roni side dishes, “cream of _____” soups for casseroles, and homemade gravy.
You use a roux to make an even fancier sounding word, a bechamel, which basically means a cream sauce. I’ve used that knowledge to fiddle with pasta and vegetables and more and create really great, simple dishes.
Now it’s your turn!
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How to Make a Roux
We actually teach kids this basic cooking technique in our Kids Cook Real Food eCourse, and I think it’s a skill that every home cook should have.
Here’s the method, and some screenshots from the lessons in the video course:
- Use equal parts fat and flour.
- Melt the fat and whisk in the flour.
- It’s as simple as that!
- To make the bechamel (cream sauce), you just whisk in milk or cream and bring to a boil, stirring fairly constantly.
Ingredients in a Roux
- 1 Tbs. butter or olive oil (pan drippings if you’re going for gravy)
- 1 Tbs. flour (white or whole wheat both work great)
- 1 c. whole milk (or part cream)
Increase the amounts depending on how much of the final product you need. If you want it thicker, use more flour.
Detailed Instructions and Photo Tutorial to Make a Homemade Roux/Bechamel
1. Gently melt the butter so it doesn’t burn:
2. Stir in flour until it looks like pasty gunk:
3. Cook for a minute to get rid of the “flour” taste, then add the milk, stirring constantly to mix up the roux. (This is where you’d add broth or stock to make homemade gravy.)
5. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring as often as you can to prevent scorched milk, until bubbly and thickened.
Gluten-Free Cream Sauce
But…what if you’re gluten-free?
Even though it’s just a bit of wheat flour, it still counts.
Great news! There are 2 ways to make a gluten-free roux / bechamel that are tried and true:
Buckwheat Flour for a Gluten-free Roux
Not all gluten-free flours will work 1-to-1 for a roux, but buckwheat flour works just fine. Just stir it into the fat as you would with wheat flour.
The resulting cream sauce is quite thick and definitely has a different consistency than a wheat flour bechamel, but if you’re gluten-free, it can be a life-saver.
Arrowroot Powder Fakes the Roux
You won’t use arrowroot powder in exactly the same way as making a roux, because it doesn’t work to stir it into the fat.
You must add the arrowroot powder (HALF as much measurement as wheat flour; it thickens more effectively) into COLD liquid, typically the milk. Stir that mixture very thoroughly or shake it up in a jar with a tightly-fitting lid, then pour it into any broth or milk or soup after the liquid in the pot is boiling.
What to Do with a Roux / Bechamel
You can use the white sauce over pasta (add salt, pepper, spices and Parmesan cheese and you’ve got Alfredo) or a cheesy sauce for steamed broccoli.
You can make a basic homemade cream of chicken/mushroom base recipe (also see three easy casseroles in that post).
Make your own baked chicken dish by adding cheese and jalapenos and pouring over chicken breasts, or use this knowledge to make cream of potato/vegetable soup.
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My Favorite Use for a Roux: Cream of Potato Soup
One of the things I love about cream of potato soup is its versatility. It’s a perfect mid-winter, mid-Lent meatless option, and it’s delicious enough that you don’t mind eating it in the summer either, especially with the bounty of fresh produce you find that time of year.
It’s also incredibly frugal and great for using up leftovers, like the bag of random vegetables I have in my freezer.
The other thing I love? The taste. Simplicity at its best!
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