My friends, Kathie and Greg Speck live part of a year in New Orleans. She is an avid jazz lover and he leads a zydego band. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? After retiring as a High School English teacher, Greg and Kathie made the plunge and made their frequent visits to NO a permanent thing. Kathie has been a social worker in her New York State county for a number of years, but that’s only part of her story. She is another one of those friends of mine who I classify as a Renaissance woman. I’m beginning to think that I have been transported back to Renaiassance days, given all the people I know who qualify. Her interest in the arts, politics, organizational development, social welfare issues, literature, travel, cooking, and raising one of the most interesting families around make her credentials believable. Both of her grown young men are rock musicians in California (look up Run, Run, Run); one is also a magician and rides a unicycle. Kathie submitted the word roux for my consideration, and today it’s the feature word for this posting.
If you have a word for me, submit it by following the instructions at this link.
While roux is not exclusive to New Orleans, it’s a great place to start in pursuing it’s story. Roux is a 19th century French word which comes from the word for brown. Obviously, it refers to the fact that when you take butter (or some other fat), heat it in a skillet and add flour to it, the mixture takes on a brownish feature.
Now, while the official definition for roux talks about using butter as the primary ingredient, people in the deep south would probably turn up their noses and talk about using fat. That could be anything from bacon grease to lard. The idea is to mix in some flour and stir it until it becomes pasty. When you add it to a soup or other liquid dish, such as stew, it thickens the liquid and makes it smooth.
Southern food, especially in and around New Orleans, has its own special place in American cuisine. While much of it (most of it?) is spicy, given the plentitude of hot peppers and cayenne that find their way into dishes, Big Easy food is also known for its comfort quality. The roux is part of the secret.
What’s a Mardi Gras feast without Cajan jambalaya, a spicy mixture of meats, vegetables, stock and rice. That stock is the key to the differences among the chefs. Many, if not most, of them use a roux to make the stock smooth and to help it hold the mixture together. Cajun foods seldom use tomatoes, so the flavoring is what differentiates one from the other. When the meat is simmered in a frying pan before beginning the mixture, the scraps and liquid fats in the bottom of the pan are saved and used for making the roux.
This has been a very difficult post to write. I’m only part way through breakfast, and already my mouth is watering and my stomach grumbling. This stuff is just too good to talk about without tasting it!
Photo Credit: ddrraayynn