Have you ever made a roux? Like: really made a roux?
I’ve made a roux in quotes–a “roux”–whenever I’ve taken a roasted chicken out of its cast iron skillet, added some flour to the pan, cooked it for a minute or two and finished it up with a big glass of white wine. That makes for a thick, chickeny, winey sauce that’s very tasty. But after visiting New Orleans last year, and purchasing Donald Link’s indispensible cookbook “Real Cajun,” I’d been meaning to make a real Cajun roux. The kind that you have to develop for a while at the stove, the kind that you have to watch carefully, the kind that goes from a toast stage to a cardboard stage based on the smells its giving off. Which is why, last week, I made Donald Link’s Smothered Pork Roast Over Rice, a recipe he learned from his grandmother, and one that involves the creation of a peanut butter-colored roux.
You start with a large boneless pork roast (shoulder or butt) which you season with salt and pepper and then brown aggressively, on all sides, in a Dutch Oven:
That’s the kind of browning you need to develop good flavor.
Then–and here’s where the recipe takes a Paula Deen-ish turn–you add a stick of butter to the pan (I poured off some of the pork fat first):
To the butter, you add 1/2 cup all-purpose flour:
And this is where you make your roux; stirring and watching carefully (lowering the heat to medium) you cook the flour and butter together until it turns a dark peanut butter color, about ten minutes.
Now, for someone who’d never made a Cajun-style roux before, I think I did pretty well–look at that color! More importantly, though, I also managed to snap a picture at this very delicate, very tenuous moment:
After which, you add a mixture of onions, garlic, thyme leaves and rosemary:
The recipe here gets a little confusing–it says to cook until the mixture is thick but how can it get “thick” when it’s just onions covered in a peanut butter paste? In any case, you add chicken broth, stirring constantly, until you have a nice thick sauce:
Then you return the pork to the Dutch Oven:
Cover with some of the onion mixture and cook, basting every 30 minutes, for 3 hours or so until the meat breaks apart easily when pressed with a fork.
To serve, you plate up some rice:
Remove the meat from the pan and carve it, topping the rice with slices of the super-tender meat. And then you bring the sauce back to a boil and season it with more salt, pepper and–an essential ingredient–lemon juice:
That sauce was mind-bogglingly wonderful. Well, no, it’s not mind-boggling: you developed a ton of flavor by developing that roux. The butter and flour cook together, picking up the salt and pepper and pork from the bottom of the pan, and as it gets toastier and more and more caramelized, the flavor gets deeper. So by the time you add the onions, the garlic, the thyme and rosemary, you’re poised to have the most flavorful sauce of all time. This picture should speak for itself:
Craig’s family went nuts for it–his parents were visiting–and I felt a twinge of pride that my first attempt at making a Cajun-style roux went so well. Next up? GUMBO!
Recipe: Smothered Pork Roast over Rice
Summary: From Donald Link’s “Real Cajun.”
- 1 (6- to 7-pound) boneless pork roast (shoulder or butt)
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced
- 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crumbled (I used fresh rosemary, chopped finely, which worked great)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups chicken broth
- Juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
- Steamed rice (for serving)
- Chopped parsley (for garnish)
- Preheat the oven to 275 F.
- Season the pork very generously with salt and pepper, rubbing the seasonings into the fat and flesh of the meat. Set the roast aside for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour at room temperature.
- Combine the onions, garlic, thyme, and rosemary in a medium mixing bowl and toss to combine.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, sear the meat on all sides until deeply browned and crusty, 10 to 12 minutes total.
- Transfer the meat to a plate, reduce the heat to medium, and then stir in the butter. When the butter has melted, stir in the flour to make a roux and continue to cook, stirring, until the roux turns a dark peanut butter color, about 10 minutes.
- Add the onion mixture and cook, stirring, until all the ingredients are well-coated and the mixture is thick. Whisk (or stir; with all those onions, it’s hard to whisk) in the chicken broth and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Return the pork to the Dutch oven, spoon some of the onion mixture over the meat, cover, and roast for about 3 hours, turning and basting the pork every 30 minutes or so, until the meat will break apart when pressed gently with a fork.
- At this point, you can serve the roast right out of the pan, or transfer it to a plate, then simmer the pan drippings, skimming off excess fat, until reduced by about one-third, or until it coasts the back of a spoon. Add the lemon juice and taste for seasonings.
- To serve, spoon some rice on to to each plate, top with pieces of fork-tender pork, ladle on the sauce and garnish with the parsley. Serves about 6 people, with some leftovers for tomorrow’s sandwich.
Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 3 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6