of the more dominant techniques that began to show
up in the kitchens of the 17th century was roux.
Seldom has a technique undergone such a transformation
in opinion amongst chefs and dedicated home cooks.
The common thickening agent used to give a sauce
"body" before roux was toasted crumbled
bread or crushed almonds. But roux, (known as farine
frit or fried flour (!)) began to supplant this.
The term roux comes from the French word for "reddish"
which indicates that white roux was a later development.
I adopted a sophomore's scorn when I had accumulated
"a little knowledge-dangerous thing" attitude
in the early 1980's, trotting around in my first
set of clogs, brandishing my coveted Henckel knife.
I had many grim memories of the woollier years of
hitchhiking round the country and working
in American restaurants where the pot of roux was
eternally at the ready on the shelf over the stove.
My bosses would "fix" gravies and sauces
with a mock-roux that melted hastily cooked flour
not butter, (too expensive!), but some
cheap commercially produced frying oil. It could
tighten up a sauce all right, but it smelled awful
and so it was with a sense of betrayal and disbelief
when I read of one of my "middle-years"
gurus, Jeremiah Tower, using a roux (Quell horror!).
Yet I saw the point when a recipe made in the more
"nouvelle style" called for a reduction
of massive amounts of cream to attain the texture.
Such a texture could just as easily be attained
with a modicum of roux. Properly made, with flour
cooked with butter for an appropriate length of
time, roux was more digestible and lighter in the
The battle against roux started as early as the
1830s. The great French chef Careme came to its
defense against these "ignorant men" saying
roux was as "indispensable to cooks as ink
is to writers
but just as a poor scribbler
cannot produce a masterpiece simply by dipping his
pen into that black liquid, a sauce is not necessarily
improved if the roux is made with insufficient care."
I'm Norman Van Aken and that's my word on food.
© by Norman Van Aken, 2001
consulted: "The Oxford Companion to Food", Alan