Yeah, I know it’s big as day and you can’t miss it.
That would be macaroni and cheese. Bubbly, brown crusty, fresh-from-the-oven macaroni and cheese. Trust me, it was a thing of beauty.
How did that happen, you ask? Good question – because I’m going to tell you! But we’re going to have to rewind a bit.
Today is a very special day! It’s a day I’ve been talking about and hinting about and promising for months. It’s the launch of the Cooking Basics series!
What better way to kick-off Cooking Basics than to cover an everyday technique, the result of which has many applications? Once prepared, you can use it to make all sorts of gravies and sauces. Of course I’m talking about a roux.
Roux is nothing more than a hot, melted fat mixed with flour and heated. This substance then thickens up liquids like stock or milk. I’m no Alton Brown so don’t expect, like, a puppet show involving molecules and proteins and all sorts of stuff. Just remember:
Hot fat + flour = roux
Roux = thickening agent
The first step in this macaroni and cheese, other than cooking the macaroni (this is, uh, pretty important), is to make the cheese sauce. And the first step in the cheese sauce is…you guessed it!…making a roux.
The recipe called for a stick of butter, or a half cup, and the same amount of flour. This is not rare – the components of a roux generally work in a one-to-one ratio.
So one stick of butter was melted in my medium saucepan, then I started adding 1/2 cup of flour…
…until it was all in there. Generally you should be gentle and sprinkly and whatnot. But not me. I was trying to take photos. So everybody in the pool at once.
Then, working over medium heat so as to not burn the flour, stir stir stir until the flour and butter are well combined and you have a paste.
This paste will bubble and sizzle as the flour cooks and loses its floury taste. The roux does not need to be cooked for very long – 2 or 3 minutes, tops. This is most commonly called a “blonde” roux. You don’t want the roux to start darkening, as this will discolor the sauce and lend a different flavor (this is desired in certain recipes – just not here!). You also want to make sure to cook a butter-based roux over a medium heat so as not to scorch the butter.
Once your roux is ready for liquid, add it sloooooooowly and whisk or stir constantly. If your roux is hot, as this will be, make sure the liquid is not too hot – warm or even room temperature is the way to go. As for me, I like to add my liquid in batches and make sure it’s fully incorporated before I add more – this lessens the likelihood of lumps in my sauce or gravy. If you pour it all in at once without constant whisking you’ll end up with little flour balls floating in liquid. Which is not fun for anyone.
As the mixture heats, it will thicken – give it time! You’ll be surprised at what a difference a little flour can make.
And that’s it! That’s all there is to making a roux. The first step to baking macaroni and cheese…the secret to thickening stew…to making cream-based sauces or even soups…to creating savory gravy…
Stay tuned for the rest of the macaroni and cheese recipe! And feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email (check out the Contact section above) to ask any questions or even suggest a topic I should cover in this series.
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