The Curious Case of the Roux

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During my sophomore year of high school I took a culinary class. This class was one of the only ones that provided me with a skill that is still useful to me today. Sure, there are people out there that apply the things they learned from high school calculus and chemistry to their everyday lives- and God bless them for doing so– but the majority of people just don’t use that information after they’ve earned their diploma. Long after I forgot the tune of my alma mater, I find myself still applying one tidbit of info from my 10th grade school year into my life- and that is my ability to cook. Some people pack up their bags and head off to college and others work until they’ve saved up enough to pay the rent for a close-to-home apartment. Eventually we all grow up, move, and have to cook for ourselves.

In high school, I had a big issue with sleeping in and being late for my early morning classes. When I started culinary class, this changed. I found myself getting to sleep early and preparing my supplies the night before class. I laid out my clothes, packed my apron and a pack of band aids- as minor knife accidents was a common thing with me- and settled down for an early night. Through all the close calls my fingers endured from clumsy knife skills and early starts to the mornings, I managed to still fall in love with cooking. Something about the hands-on aspect of cooking and the freedom of the kitchen kept me coming back time and time again. No longer was I bound to a desk for class. No longer was I memorizing and reciting information in preparation for another standardized test. Once I learned the ins and outs of cooking, all it took was a new recipe and good ingredients to prove to myself that I have all the talent it takes to make anything I set my mind to. Like all the other things I enjoy doing- making music, producing art and writing- I love that the finished product is a result of my creativity.

So, I dedicated myself to the bookwork it took to graduate from kitchen safety procedures to hands-on cooking. I learned about cross-contamination hazards, practiced different knife cuts and was introduced to all of the industrial grade kitchen appliances. Once I passed all my preliminary tests I began to cook. Every morning I checked in with Chef, as we called her, and was assigned a recipe. It began with simple recipes. Chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies turned to catering prep and cakes for high school events, but never any recipes for the lunch service. Lunch service was a daily menu prepared entirely from the upper level culinary students- the students who were pursuing culinary careers after graduation. Cooking for lunch service provided them with the experience of cooking for actual customers- as this was a popular lunch option for many teachers. I was just as surprised as anybody when she offered me, a rookie, the chance to cook for the menu one day.

You up for cooking for lunch service? I need someone to make soup. Of course. Sure, I said. So I made my way over to my station with the recipe in hand and set out my ingredients. Do you know how to make a roux, she asked. No. Yeah, I answered. Good, call me over if you need any help. What the hell is a roux?

I carefully looked over the recipe, reading and re-reading as I went along. Step one read “Make a Roux”.  A roux consists of even parts of fat and flour and to my surprise it looks like dried up Play -Doh when cooked correctly. If only had had known this beforehand I could have saved myself from repeatedly making and chucking the roux. I thought I kept messing it up. After the third attempt a cook from lunch service nudged himself into my station curiously asking what it was that I was making. “A roux”, I answered, “at least that’s what I’m trying to make. I can’t seem to get it right though.” Looking puzzled, he tells me that I have it right. “That’s just what it looks like. You made a roux, congratulations.”

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From then on, it was smooth sailing. I added the milk and brought the roux to a simmer. I cleaned and chopped and boiled all my other ingredients to textbook standard. After an hour, I had a complete product- my first dish for lunch service. I tasted the soup to screen for any flaws but at that point it could have tasted like dirt and I would have still given it a five star rating. But I called over Chef and told her that the soup was done. She took a spoonful and I waited for what felt like an eternity.

“Wow, it’s really good. Great job.” And just like that my dish was put on lunch service. As I cleaned up my station and loaded the dishwasher I overheard two orders called that included my soup.

From that day onward potato soup has held a special place in my heart. It brings me back to one of the first times when I was given a big chance to prove myself. Soon I’ll face my fears of applying for internships and jobs after college graduation. Whether my challenge is cooking for my high school culinary class or convincing a manager that he should take me on, it all involves taking a leap of faith and hoping that the person is up for the challenge. Sure, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a roux and a rutabaga, but sometimes being an adult means faking it until you make it. People learn as they go. We aren’t born knowing everything there is to know, and that’s okay. Just some food for thought.

A Very Sentimental Potato Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 4 Tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 4-5 potatoes of a medium size
  • A few slices of thick cut bacon (preferably fresh from your local butcher)
  • Some thyme and rosemary
  • Some fresh chives
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Your desired amount of shredded cheddar cheese

Step 1: Prep & Boil

  1. Wash, cut, and boil your potatoes in a large pot
  2. Once your potatoes are soft, drain them and return them to the pot
  3. Move the pot to a cool burner on the stove

Step 2: Make a Roux

  1. In a medium pot, melt the butter on low heat
  2. Whisk in your flour until it looks like dried Play-Doh
  3. Cook it for about a minute and begin to GRADUALLY whisk in the milk
  4. Stir everything together to prevent it from burning
  5. When you have a bubbling thick mixture, YOU’RE DONE!
  6. You’ve made a roux, congratulations!

Step 3: Mix it all together

  1. Stir the chicken broth into your roux over medium heat
  2. Add your potatoes to your soup base
  3. Chop up the chives and add them to the soup
  4. Gradually add thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper to your soup. Season to your liking.
  5. Reduce to low heat
  6. Keep an eye on your soup and occasionally stir it while you cook the bacon

Step 4: Cook up that bacon

  1. In a frying pan, heat a tiny bit of olive oil on medium
  2. Add the bacon to the pan and cook it until it’s no longer pink, flipping it occasionally
  3. Once it’s cooked, move the pan to a cool burner (You don’t want your bacon getting too crispy for this recipe- unless you do- then go for it.)
  4. Chop up the bacon and add it to your soup. If you want, you can add the bacon grease to the soup for some added flavor. 

Step 5: Final Touches

  1. Add as much cheese as you see fit
  2. Ladle it out and dig in
  3. Cheers to the fact that you’re always learning

 

Cabrera, Maryanne. Slow Cooker Loaded Baked Potato Soup. Digital image.The Chic Site. America’s Test Kitchen, 7 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.

Nakhuda, Daryn. Making a Roux. Digital image. Flickr member ddaarryynn. Licensed under Creative Commons, 6 Apr. 2008. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.

 

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This entry was posted in Food Essays Spring 2016, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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