“First you make a roux.” This sentence is the beginning of many Cajun and Creole dishes. It means cook a fat with flour until it achieves the desired color (anywhere from pale cream to dark brown), add vegetables to stop the cooking, and proceed with the recipe. The roux imparts flavor, either subtle or bold, and acts as a thickening agent as well. The source of roux is French cuisine, where roux is the beginning of the sauces mères or mother sauces, from which all flour-bound sauces derive, including béchamel and velouté, and sauce espagnole. Creole cooks would have brought this tradition with them, but unfortunately they could not bring the flour. Flour was a scarce commodity for much of Louisiana’s history - in the port town of New Orleans, but more so outside the city - so roux became used for special occasion dishes. When it was made, the more expensive butter used in France was often substituted with bear grease. Another obstacle was its labor intensive work. Roux requires constant supervision. If one has other household duties to attend to, it is an inefficient thickener. With these restrictions, Louisianans looked to other thickening sources, like filé and okra. The lack of roux in many early gumbo recipes indicates it was not a requirement for gumbo as it is today, as seen in the title of the cookbook titles: ''First You Make a Roux'' from Lafayette’s Les Vingt Quatre Club and renowned Louisiana food writer Marcelle Bienvenu’s cookbook memoir, Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux? Though most people associate roux with gumbo, it is used in a myriad of dishes throughout the state.
"To make a good roux, constant stirring is a must. Don't answer the door if there's a knock, and don't answer the phone if it rings -- a roux needs constant attention, so keep your eyes riveted to the inside of the pot the whole time. Start with slightly more flour than oil, making a cream-colored paste. About halfway through the process, the roux will become more liquid, but it will thicken to paste consistency again as it is near completion. Remember, stick with your stirring spoon." --Maude Ancelet