Chef Heather Hunsaker, www.foodonthetable.com

 

Hearty chowder. Creamy pasta. Thick gravy. Gorgeous gumbo. These comfort foods are a staple in many homes, and depending on the region of the world, can be made a variety of ways. But one essential step to all of these recipes is making a roux.

A roux is a thickening agent used or soups and sauces, made from flour and some form of fat. Making a roux is very simple and basically requires three steps. First, heat one part fat over medium heat; when the fat begins to simmer, lower heat to medium-low and whisk in equal parts flour. Continuously whisk the fat and flour mixture until roux reaches desired shade. Once roux has formed, stir in additional liquids; such as broth or milk, to form your sauce or gravy.

Typically a roux is made with melted butter and flour but can be made with a variety of oils and animal fats. Vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, clarified butter, shortening, bacon grease or other rendered fats can all be used.

Roux can be different shades: white, blond, brown, and dark brown; all depending on the length of time the roux is cooked, not the ingredients used. White and blond roux have a lighter flavor and is best used to thicken white sauces, chowders, and macaroni and cheese. Brown and dark brown roux have a rich and nutty flavor. However, a darker roux has less thickening power than a white or blond roux. Because of this nice nutty flavor, they are typically used in Cajun and Creole dishes, such as gumbo and jambalaya.

To make gluten free roux, rice flour is a good alternative. Since rice flour is so glutinous it will make a nice silky, velvety gluten free roux. Keep in mind, the rice flour will not need to cook as long as traditional flour before it reaches that nice golden brown hue. A gluten free all-purpose flour mix can also be used to create a gluten free roux.

Another thickening option is a slurry, made from cornstarch and water. Since cornstarch is a powerful thickener, you will need to use much less than flour. Because cornstarch breaks down when cooked over long periods of time it is best to add it at the end of the cooking process. Cornstarch slurries work best in soups and sauces that will be served immediately.

Test your roux knowledge and whip up this Cajun Chicken Pasta for dinner tonight!

Cajun Chicken Pasta

Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Serves 6

1 pound package linguine pasta
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning (or to taste)
3 tablespoon butter
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup half and half
2 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
salt and black pepper, to taste

Prepare pasta in salted water according to package directions. Heat a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add half of the chicken. Sauté 5 to 6 minutes or until done, set aside on a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken. Set aside. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet and reduce to medium; add bell peppers, onions, and garlic to skillet, sauté 3-4 minutes. Remove cooked vegetables from pan and add to reserved cooked chicken.

Add remaining butter to pan and bring to simmer. Once butter begins to simmer, reduce heat to medium low and whisk in flour. Continue whisking butter and flour mixture for 2-3 minutes. Slowly whisk in half and half and chicken broth. Let sauce simmer for 3-4 minutes then stir in cheese.

Return cooked chicken and vegetables to skillet; adjust seasoning to taste, cook another minute or two until hot, then add linguine; toss well to coat, and enjoy!

 

Chef Heather Hunsaker attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has been developing family friendly meals since she was nine years old in her mother’s kitchen. She is an avid crockpotter and knows how to get food on the table in a pinch. She currently serves as a writer and recipe developer for meal planning site www.foodonthetable.com.

This article appears in the March 2012 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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