Sunday, February 27, 2011

To roux or not to roux-the beauty of cast iron skillets

I decided today was the day to cook for the whole week. This is not unusual for me because I don't like to cook after working 10-12 hours at my weekday job. Sunday is the perfect day to create meals. I enjoy planning meals which can withstand refrigeration for the week and offer succulent flavor through the last helping.

I wanted something old and something new so I chose to make Green Bean Soup, Seaford Gumbo, banana bread and pumpkin bars. The seafood gumbo recipe was a new venture for me as I found it yesterday in Marilu Henner's Party Hearty cookbook on page 107.

Seafood Gumbo falls under the Mardi Gras category. I know Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are weeks away, however I always anticipate these days to be in February. My internal calendar was ready for Mardi Gras food even if Lent starts March 9 and Easter is in late spring on April 24.

So I dove into the new experience of cooking Seafood Gumbo. The recipe said, "Combine the remaining 1/4 cup margarine and the flour in a large iron skillet." I was surprised to see the iron skillet mentioned and I thought I misread it. After some consideration I realized I owned a large cast iron skillet passed down from my grandmother to my mother and then to me. I bent on my knees and searched the kitchen cabinet behind the casserole dishes, the 9 inch pie pans and the electric fryer. I found and dragged out the cast iron skillet.

The next sentence of instructions read "Make a roux by cooking it over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the roux is the color of chocolate." Roux? I never heard of the term. I asked my daughter Ashley to google it and she read the following:

Roux (pronounced /ˈruː/) is a cooked mixture of wheat flour and fat, traditionally clarified butter. It is the thickening agent of three of the mother sauces of classical French cooking: sauce béchamel, sauce velouté and sauce espagnole. Butter, vegetable oils, or lard are commonly used fats. It is used as a thickener for gravy, other sauces, soups and stews. It is typically made from equal parts of flour and fat by weight. Retrieved February 27, 2011 from

I started the roux and immediately recognized that this thickener was quite similar to the broth mixture for green bean soup. I recalled the stories of how my great-grandmother passed the green bean soup recipe to my grandmother and my grandmother passed the green bean recipe to my mother.
The paternal grandmother descended from the Herrmanns of Mariental who moved to Russia from modern day Luxembourg. Of course, the country of Luxembourg did not exist in the late 1700s when they immigrated. It was a province or territory ruled by Spain, France or Germanic prince depending on who won the latest war. Who created this cooking technique? Could this technique I considered German -Russian cooking stem from the French influence in Bitsche,Luxembourg, the ancestral home of the Herrmanns?

When I set the seafood gumbo to simmer, I started the green bean soup. Of course I used the cast iron skillet again. My mother loved this skillet. Mixing the roux and the green bean broth in it made me finally understand why. The cast iron built an even heat and its sturdy structure was a welcome break from modern frying pans which disintegrate too easily.

The broth for green bean soup is created as follows: "In a separate frying pan, place 2 tablespoons of of butter and 1/2 cup flour. Warm this mixture on low heat while stirring occasionally. Heat until the flour browns and butter dissolves." From Value Meals on the Volga, Sharing Our Heritage with New Generations.

Is it a coincidence that this soup thickener is used in French and German Russian cooking, or do all cultures have a similar recipe?

Whether Russian, German, Italian, French or Spanish, this cooking technique demonstrates we are a global community so matter how we look at it. To roux or not to roux, in whatever language, it's just good cooking.

1 comment:

Frank said...

I "roux" the day I tasted your gumbo. It was delicious and now I am hungry for more. Making roux is a fine art and gumbo lovers from Houston to NOLA judge the quality of gumbo by how the roux tastes. Your's created a Mardi Gras of fun for my tsate buds. They are still dancing a Samba. Thanks!!!!