Roux the Day

A worn wooden spoon on a worn wooden cutting board.

She stood over the stove stirring. Stirring, stirring, stirring. She wasn’t giving up.

She was learning to cook. It was a grownup thing to do, and she was ready to be a grownup. She outfitted her kitchen with a few pieces of mid-priced cookware to join the battered pots that had been her stepmom’s. She was addicted to cooking shows and studied the mis en place and vino in mano of her favorite chefs on her favorite shows.

Between HGTV, YouTube and prodigious brunches around town she was growing her skills, her palette and her repertoire. She fancied herself the foodie friend. She had started inviting friends to stand up cocktails with cute things on skewers and bites on those silly appetizer spoons. She graduated to hosting her own brunches filled with fancy french toasts, egg custards, salads and mimosas. Last year she did Thanksgiving for the friends who couldn’t get home. The boxed wines she served were the good ones. Everyone said she did great.

She was ready to cross into new territory. The turkey dinner was a win, but she was ready for something from her own inspiration. She decided that she’d host her alumni squad for a fun dinner party after the game. Her solution? Gumbo.

Gumbo was like chili only more exotic. Like chili, it could make ahead of time, it didn’t need extensive staging and it was hearty. She figured she’d serve gumbo, a goat cheese and pear salad with candied pecans that Giada makes and a baguette from the local bakery. She’d lay out some of Emeril’s “kicked up” olives, that fancy cheese with honey, breadsticks and beers to hold her guests while she warmed up the stew. She was hoping to remind people of New Orleans. Her idea was to have a party that was theme-y without really having a theme. She expected maybe ten or so.

She hadn’t made gumbo before, but didn’t consider it beyond her domain. The ingredients weren’t unusual–save the okra, but okra is a vegetable. She hadn’t been challenged by a vegetable yet. She felt confident. She got up early.

First up, the roux, the key to an authentic gumbo. Ingredient-wise it’s just oil and flour. Not too complicated. All she had to do was heat it and stir it until it was a deep chocolate brown. It seemed triflingly simple. Stand and stir. And stir.

After about five minutes she could see the color change. She nodded to herself. Something was happening. She figured a few more minutes. All she could hear was the spoon on the pan. Her phone should be charged by now. She grabbed it off the charger in her bedroom. She swiped around until she found an appropriate Spotify list–1,600 songs from New Orleans. That was good for mood setting.

She walked back into the kitchen to a scorched pan. The roux was burned. She had stepped away for two minutes, okay, maybe five or six, but it’s supposed to cook for like fifteen. Crap! She only had one big pot. She had to wait for it to cool before she could clean it out.

She fiddled with her playlist and made sure that her phone was connected to the speaker before she started again. She was glad she started early. She smiled and thought if it were later she’d have some cooking wine. Maybe it was better to be stone cold sober. She filled up her coffee mug, swirling in some of that hazelnut creamer. She dried the pan with a dish towel and put it on the burner to remove the last traces of water. She was ready.

Roux take two.

She measured out the oil and the flour and began the stirring process. She knew now that this concoction was a demanding master. She kept her spoon moving through the flour and the oil. It swelled and bubbled a little. She kept stirring. It went from vanilla to beige. More stirring as it passed from beige to taupe. It started to smell a little nutty. That was a good sign according to her recipe. She stirred and stirred. She swept the spoon in figure eights. She squiggled it through the mixture. She sipped her coffee from the cup held in her left hand as her right hand pushed the the darkening roux back and forth. She wasn’t stopping this time.

She had massaged the stuff in the pan for fifteen minutes. It seemed stalled. It wasn’t getting darker. It was stuck on caramel colored but she needed dark chocolate cake batter colored. She turned the heat up to make something happen. And it did. It went from a nutty smell to the stench of old fire pit. A few curse words sputtered from her lips.

Ruined roux number two.

She inhaled long. She exhaled from her nose and mouth at the same time. She needed to get this done and cooked before she left for the game, so she didn’t have time to get frustrated. She waited, again, for the pot to cool. It was a good thing, because she needed to cool, too.

She looked at the clock. She was running low on time. She googled “roux” and looked through a few of the entries. She found one from a site called BlueBayouCrazyCajunCooking that said it takes a half hour to get the right shade of chocolate and to lower the heat toward the end to avoid burning.

Well, she definitely knew how to burn it. She had two techniques for that. She shook her shoulders out and switched her coffee out for a coke. She measured out the flour and the oil and began the process again, hoping that the third time was the charm.

 

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