MASTERING THE FIRST INGREDIENT OF GUMBO
First, you make a roux…
That’s the way the recipe begins for our Chesapeake Crab Gumbo, and every other gumbo.
Well damn, I’m not making it then, is what you must be thinking. Roux, like custards, biscuits, and pie dough, are the bane of our cooking abilities. They all fall into the category of “feel,” rather than exact adherence to instruction. Art over science. Read a thousand recipes, and you’ll get a thousand directions. And if you get the French involved, then it really gets complicated.
We checked in with our favorite Louisiana chef and hunting buddy, David Guas, to see what makes roux so damn difficult. His restaurant, Bayou Bakery in Virginia, is everybody’s place for chicory coffee, king cake, and, of course, gumbo, be it with smoked duck sausage or lump crab. David was the first person we asked to try our cast iron, and his first dish was a pan of cornbread from meal ground just down the road from George Washington’s historic mill. In other words, we trust the guy.
And he boils it all down to one simple thing:
“You have to keep your wits about you,” says David. “A lot of people don’t know how to regulate their heat.”
The recipe, at its core, is simple: one-part fat and one-part flour, browned to your choice of color, but that’s the key to making a roux. Whether you are stirring or whisking, for 10 minutes or an hour, in the backwoods of Louisiana or along the Seine, you have to avoid burning. Which is why cast iron comes in so handy as a cooking vessel—its steady even heat.
“You reach a crucial point where you turn to grab a cup of water or someone rings the doorbell and you are left with burnt roux,” says David. “Those flecks—I call them chocolate chips. Now you’ve got to start over.”
Besides, he feels that all good food is fussy, and I guess we can say we get that.
So don’t follow the recipe. Just watch the pan, keep an eye on the color, and by god, don’t get distracted. You know, wits and all.
About David Guas
Here's the recipe for Chesapeake Crab Gumbo: Butter Pat Family Receipts.