There is the traditional food groups, we all know them, in my house there’s a whole different set of food groups. Cajun, Italian, Mexican, Sushi, and Ice Cream. Really, what we eat can generally break into one of those groups. Cajun is number one on that list. Even though we’re both born and bread Northwestern Kids (I’m from Oregon and my husband was born in Alaska) we love Cajun food. Gumbo, Jambalaya, Etoufee, Po Boys…we love it all. We love Cajun food so much we had a Cajun food truck cater our wedding. It was literally the best money we spent on the whole day.
So, the thing that I started lamenting the most when I got my celiac diagnosis was gumbo. You can’t make gumbo without flour. The base of gumbo is a roux, a mixture of wheat flour and butter cooked to a dark chocolate brown. You can’t make gumbo without it, becuase that roux not only thickens but it add the rich deep falvor that kind of is gumbo. Well a quick google search later and my husband was looking at making gumbo with sweet rice flour. If you’ve ever tried to make a roux by just replacing it with one single flour, you know that it doesn’t work very well. You get grainy liquid and light flavors and none of the complexity that you expect from gumbo. So we set out on a journey, a journey for the perfect gluten free roux.
To understand how to make a gluten free roux, you need to understand how to make a roux period. Roux isn’t just mixing oil and flour together to make things thicken. What makes roux so special is the fact that you’re cooking the flour to create a depth of flavor. I mean, it’s French and it’s cooking so it’s totally more complicated than that. You cook the flour to take away some of that flour taste. If you’ve even made a slurry with just flour and water it’s not tasty. It tastes like playdough, but less salty. So you cook the flour to try and get that flavor out. The same thing happens that happens when you cook meat or sugar the make carmel, the maillard reaction, and it makes the flavor more complicated and the whole things just gets smoother. So when you make your bachemel sauce or a gravy, which is light and buttery, you use a light roux. When you make a etoufee or gumbo you use a super dark roux with deep complex flavors. Yup, all of that chemistry stuff from just cooking some flour. So in making a gluten free roux, you got to look at how to get all of that in one place. Nothing to be intimidated by there.
One of the images that always sticks in my head when I think about making roux is Alton Brown sitting in a kitchen with pots and pots around him of burned chocolate roux. I would have shared that image here, but it apparently doesn’t live on the internet and I would have to pay to get a screen shot of that scene. Still great episode, you should all watch it. And as I go through the rest of this post, this image will be really important.
So another google search, you’ll find that a lot in this post, we came to Emril Lagasse. If you don’t know, Emril’s two daughters are part of the Celitariat, one has celiac one has non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The man who is know to America as the Cajun cook has made gluten free gumbo, so he should KNOW the best way to get a good roux. We bought a cook book authored by his daughters that included some recipes from him. We tried their roux, which used Arrowhead Mills gluten free flour. We tracked some down (at our local Safeway in the gluten free ethnic food section) and tried what the experts said. Again, it was okay. Not the best not the worst. We tried it a couple of times, and it was still just okay. The thickening was there, but it lacked a depth of flavor. Arrowhead Mills is rice flour, sorghum, and tapioca starch. Knowing what we know now, it makes sense that the color and flavor just wasn’t there.
Now, I will say, if you’re going for a light roux, like a white roux, this is great. It works pretty well for my cream of chicken and while rice soup. It works pretty well to make cream of chicken soup to make our chicken and rice dishes. But if you’ve ever had gumbo (and a really good gumbo) it’s really complex, like a red wine. And we have had gumbo at Emril’s actual restaurants before. The roux was so dark and the flavor was so rich, we thought that there had to be red wine in. There wasn’t, it was all the roux. So to have a light roux in a gumbo recipe tied to him, that just doesn’t work.
After a couple of attempts, we realized it wasn’t us, it was totally the flour so we went back to the internet. Google told us that we should use Bob’s Red Mill AP, which made a roux that tastes like beans. We tried white rice flour, brown rice flour, and sorghum flour. We tried combinations of all of the above. That’s when my husband realized the thing that all gluten free cooks realize, the pre-mixed AP flours are just not as good as making your own. So this week, he threw caution to the wind and grabbed white rice flour, sweet rice flour, and ivory teff. He mixed all of those in equal parts into the pot and made the best batch of gumbo that we’ve had since going gluten free. It got dark and had all of the complex nutty flavors that we were missing. The teff, unlike the sorghum, really stood up to the cooking and got really yummy. It tasted almost as good as any of the glutened gumbos that I have ever had.
Now, a bit of a cooking lesson here. I know I said I wasn’t going to do this, but there’s some science here. So a normal roux is made with equal amount of oil and flour. The oil can change based on what kind of cooking that you’re doing (butter for french, lard for Middle European, bacon grease for cajiun). Wheat flour is really…thirsty. I mean really thirsty. It absorbs oil really well. If you’ve tried to make your own gluten free fried chicken, or anything breaded really, the gluten free flour doesn’t absorb the oil as well. So when you make your gluten free roux, whatever fat you use, you use less of it. If you’re making a gravy with gluten free flour, you add a little bit more to the drippings. It’s just one of the things that you have to adapt. My husband says it should be a third less oil, and when I’ve made roux would agree with that.
So there’s the cooking lessons. That’s as close was we’re going to ever get to doing a cooking blog. Sorry this took a couple of extra days, but there was a lot of get into this one. I almost broke it into a couple of posts because there is just so much information. Still, here’s your basic roux recipe for the best dark roux base we have found.
The perfect dark roux
1/3 cup white rice flour
1/3 cup sweet/glutenous rice flour (machiko)
1/3 cup ivory teff flour
2/3 of a cup of butter
Now go out there and enjoy some good old Cajun food. All of the work is worth it.