Becky Stayner; Styling: Lindsey Lower
Thickening up gumbo and other hearty stews seems easy and straightforward in theory, but could we ever say that to the lady stirring up a perfectly ratioed pot of butter and flour until her elbow feels like it’s going to fall off? In case the gumbo gods are listening, let’s say that’s a hard no. Roux might be the most important part of the entire stewing process, lest you be left with watery, flavorless sausage soup.
Traditionally, roux is a painstakingly attentive thing to make, with it requiring constant attention and stirring in order to cook down the fat (which can technically be anything from butter to bacon grease or drippings) and flour until it hits the perfect dark brown color and thick consistency. The raw taste of the flour needs to be totally subdued without scorching the fat. You want it past the blonde roux stage—which is the sweet spot if you’re making bechamel cheese sauces for baked macaroni and cheese—until it reaches dark brown. It can then be used as the base for gumbo and other thick Southern stews like burgoo and Creole dishes like étouffée.
Many modern Southern cooks find a real roux to be rather time-intensive on just any busy weeknight or hectic family holiday, which brings us to the cooking hack that might be the most controversial statement we’ll make all year: You can make roux in the microwave. Hear us out. We say this not because we want to tarnish the entire tradition of gumbo making in the South, but because it’s our duty to relay information that might help a busy mother making dinner for a family of five and we’d rather not see the whole tradition of making gumbo die out over a fight about the microwave.
When making roux over the stovetop, you can expect to be standing over the pan and stirring continuously for at least half an hour. Half an hour! Your wrist will never look at you the same again. The microwave method for making roux takes less time overall and requires less stirring, which is why it appeals to anyone who has other things to be doing apart from whisking.
To make roux in the microwave, follow these simple steps:
Whisk together one cup of flour and one cup of cooking oil in a microwave-safe glass bowl until smooth and lump-free. Place the bowl in the microwave. Microwave for four to five minutes (keeping a close eye on it as it cooks), which should get you to a blonde roux stage. Stir and pop back in for two to three minutes at a time, stirring in between, until it reaches the desired consistency and color. The whole process might take anywhere from 12 to 18 minutes; and although we don’t recommend it when using this method, you can add more flour or oil if needed.
Give it a good whisk to make sure it is thick, dark brown, consistent, and without any lumps—and you’re ready to put that roux to work. May we suggest trying our Andouille Sausage and Smoked Chicken Gumbo recipe? (Hint: You can even make a batch of extra roux to freeze for later; just pour the finished roux into an ice cube tray, freeze, and bag up. Genius.)
Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo
If there's a more satisfying meal to make for cool weather, we haven't found it. Gumbo is a stay-inside-and-cook-all-day kind of dish that warms you inside and out.
Making a really great Southern stew doesn’t mean your wrist and elbow need to be barking for days after. As much as it pains us to say this, the microwave might just be a game-changer for some.