Great sauces can save a badly cooked piece of chicken. However, a bad sauce will ruin the best cooked meal. Being able to consistently create flavorful and smooth sauces is one of the best skills to have in the home kitchen.
When you can make a variety of sauces, you multiply the number of meals you can create. A grilled chicken breast is an entirely different dish with a white cheese sauce over it than a dark Cajun spicy sauce. It’s still a chicken breast, but now it’s two different meals.
Sauces are simple. They’re just a liquid plus a thickening agent. The liquid adds flavor, but the thickening agent gives body and texture. Roux is not the only way to thicken a liquid, but it is the most flavorful and reliable.
I’ll admit that great sauces can also be made with a cornstarch slurry, or by simple reduction. Those are two other ways to thicken liquid, but a well made roux adds flavor and texture that these two options do not.
Roux is the combination of fat and starch. You can experiment with a wide variety of fat starch combinations, but generally butter and flour are used. To make a standard roux, use equal proportions. For a thicker roux, add more flour. This will have more thickening power, but might not be as smooth in the end.
Making Roux for Great Sauces:
1) Melt butter in a small sauce pan. Be careful not to burn or separate the butter. The goal is to keep the butter yellow, and not see white milk solids floating on the top. This means you’ve broken the emulsion of fat/milk solids/water that butter is made of.
The best thing for melting butter is melted butter. As soon as some of the butter melts under the heat, remove the pan and surround the solid butter with the melted butter. Agitate the pan to add friction, and even return it to the flame for 5 seconds if you need more heat. But, try to keep it yellow.
2) Add flour – In small increments, add flour to the melted butter until you have something that looks like wallpaper paste. It’s not too runny, and it’s not like cookie dough. Whisk this together until it’s smooth.
3) Cook the flour – In order to avoid a pasty-tasting sauce, the proteins must be cooked out of the flour to create a proper roux. You’ll notice that the roux changes from beige/yellow to white as the proteins are cooked. The roux will get bubbly and give off a nutty smell. When your fat/flour mixture is entirely white, without starting to turn brown, it’s ready to thicken any liquid.
Great sauces await the roux you just made, and you can start right now or wait until later. However, there’s something important to remember.
When using roux to thicken liquids, the roux and liquid must be opposite ends of the temperature spectrum. If you’ve just created this thickening agent and it’s still hot, then a COLD liquid like broths or milk can be used to make a sauce.
If you have milk or broth simmering on the stove, it’s a COLD roux that is needed to thicken the hot liquid. A cold roux is the roux you made yesterday and stored in the refrigerator. You simply crumble the cooked and chilled butter/flour mixture into the simmering liquid and you have instant gravy!
Once you can make a great roux, then the entire world of liquids will dictate the type of sauce you can create. This one method can be used as an inspiration for endless great sauces in your own kitchen.
See the chef’s live cooking demonstration as he makes great saucesfrom roux.
Chef Todd Mohr has a passion for helping people improve their cooking with simple cooking techniques that work! His cooking DVDs, transform home cooks into confident home chefs. “Burn Your Recipes” and your cooking will be transformed.