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 that 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.
- 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.
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.
You can use the white sauce over pasta (add salt, pepper, spices and Parmesan cheese and you’ve got alfredo), make a 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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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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- ~4 potatoes
- any other veggies you have on hand (broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, corn…)
- 2–3 Tbs. butter
- 4–5 Tbs. whole wheat flour (gluten-free version below)**
- 2 c. whole milk (why full fat dairy?)
- 2 c. chicken stock (or additional milk if you want meatless)
- salt, pepper, herbs to taste (see below for ideas)
- Wash and cut potatoes (with or without skins – for taste’s sake, peel them, for health’s sake, leave the peels on), a few carrots, some broccoli, and other veggies. Boil the potatoes in salted water about 15 minutes or until soft.
- I used to put the veggies right in the water too and use the veggie water to thin the cream sauce (to add nutrients, I had heard!), but now I understand that it’s not recommended to reuse cooking water if (1) you don’t use organic produce and (2) you’re using broccoli, kale, spinach, or cauliflower (and a few other lesser known cruciferous veggies). The chemicals from non-organically grown produce reside in the cooking water, and the oxalic acid and/or goitrogens (see this post for explanation) from the cruciferous veggies also sit in the water.
- My solution to get all the vegetables cooked and do it nutritiously — and without adding extra dishes — is to get the potatoes going.
- Then rest my steamer basket on top, either using its own tripod like above, or just sitting on the potatoes if there are too many.
- And yes, this is a great opportunity to use some broccoli stems.
- Meanwhile, as soon as you get your veggies on the stove, start your roux/bechamel. (It always takes longer than I think it will.) For potato soup, I usually use 2-3 Tbs butter, 3-5 Tbs flour (extra thick) and 2 cups milk. Once it is pleasantly thick, pour in a few cups of chicken broth for added nutritional benefits.
- **Gluten-free version: Use 2-4 Tbs. arrowroot starch, and instead of adding it to the fat, whisk it in with one cup of the cold milk. Put the other 3 cups of liquid into the pan, bring to a low boil, and stir in the starch/milk mixture, whisking constantly until bubbly again. I always think it is not going to thicken up, and I usually add more starch mixed with water or milk, then get my soup too thick. Be patient; arrowroot does thicken better than flour, so you use less.
- When the vegetables are all soft, add them to the creamy base using a slotted spoon. Just discard the cooking water.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste (1 tsp. or less salt and ¼-1/2 tsp. pepper is safe). Other herbs like thyme, marjoram, basil and taragon are good to add flavor, too. Lately I’ve used about a tsp of marjoram and taragon, in case you’re not adventurous in the kitchen with trying your own measurements.
You can fry up some bacon and onions and use a little bacon fat for the roux, then add bacon to the soup and sprinkle with cheese for “loaded baked potato” soup.
My dad calls it “garden soup” with potatoes, green beans, carrots and corn in August.
Add a cup or two of shredded cheese, frozen corn and some ham and you have a cheesy ham chowder to die for.
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Looking for more soup recipes? You won’t want to miss the eBook Winter Soups, a compilation from over 50 real food bloggers. I truly enjoy having this book in my collection for all the great new ideas. Check it out here.
You can make a basic homemade cream of chicken/mushroom base recipe (also see three easy casseroles in that post).
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