Tuesday, May 15, 2012

First You Make a Roux, or...

...breaking the canned cream soup habit.

The secret is to learn to make a white sauce.  Once you've mastered a while sauce you can bypass just about any recipe that calls for a can of cream of something soup.  I still have a very few favorite recipes that call for a can of soup, like my mother's meatloaf that uses the soup as the gravy, but for the most part, I've pitched all those types of recipes.

A good white sauce is only 3 ingredients - butter (or oil), flour and milk.  That's it.  Once you've created your white sauce, though, there are countless possibilities and ingredients you can add to it.  Add in some freshly shredded cheese of your choice, and you've got a beautiful cheese sauce.  It's a fairly simple technique once you get the hang of it, but be forewarned: This is not something you can walk away from!

The first thing you must do to make a successful white sauce is to make a roux.  There are several degrees to a roux, depending on the depth of flavor and color you want.  For a traditional white sauce, you're going to make a light roux.

Start by melting 1/4 cup or 4 teaspoons of butter in a pan over medium heat.  Unless you have a good wooden spoon or a silicone whisk, you're going to want to use a stainless steel, aluminum, or well seasoned cast iron pan.  This is not a good use of your non-stick pans, as you will scratch them with your whisk.

Once the butter is just melted, add 1/4 or 4 teaspoons flour and whisk it around immediately.  The flour should sort of foam up the butter slightly.  Continue whisking for 1-2 minutes to cook the flour.  It's important that the flour cook thoroughly or you will have a pasty tasting sauce.  If the mixture seems dry and crumbly, add a teaspoon or so of butter (or oil) at a time until you have a smooth paste.  Now you have a roux.  I've been told that at this point, if you've made a large quantity, you can remove it from the heat and store it in small batches in your freezer for adding to sauces and soups later.  I haven't tried that method yet.  If you do, let me know how it works out!

Finally slowly pour in one cup of milk.  Some folks will say to warm the milk first, but generally I just measure out the milk first and let it come to room temperature as I gather the remainder of the ingredients.  Whisk constantly until the ingredients are combined well.  Let the milk come just to a boil (this will also help cook off the flour), and reduce the heat to medium low.  Once your sauce has thickened slightly, you can add in anything you'd like - salt and pepper, freshly grated cheese, basil and oregano, sauteed mushrooms and onions - to make the sauce truly yours.

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