Archive for October, 2011

Everything’s better with cheddar

Here it is, the finale of this three-part I Want To Cook miniseries. Three weeks ago we used fat and flour to make a roux, traditionally used to thicken soups, stews and the kind of sauce we made last week, a béchamel. Now we’ll use those foundations to build our latest and last creation: a dynamite cheddar cheese sauce.

With this sauce, the options are limitless. Yes, it’s the magic spread that will get kids and adults alike to eat broccoli. Bring some chips to the party and you have an instant dip. Or you can use it to make the greatest mac and cheese of your life.

The real beauty about this whole endeavor, though, is that you can tailor it to your liking. Not a fan of cheddar? Use Parmesan or another Italian-style cheese to make a mock Alfredo that would be at home over pasta.

Love the idea of fondue but not big on wine? This can be your ticket to dipping bliss. Or perhaps you like it spicy. If that’s the case, throw in some jalapenos and a pinch of cayenne powder: That will wake up those nachos.

With béchamel as a foundation, all this is possible. The sauce is needed for the cheese to incorporate, because, as I unfortunately learned at a very young age, you can’t just throw a bunch of cheese in a pot, turn on the heat and expect it to melt. I think we’re still trying to get the burn remnants off that pan.

For now we’ll make a quick cheddar sauce from our béchamel. I use 4 cups of grated mild cheddar, but again, let your taste and senses be the guide. Use more for a stronger sauce, less for a milder one. This sauce is best used immediately. If you have to reheat, do it gently in a pot or in a microwave, stirring often.

Here’s how to make it happen, including the last two weeks’ instructions for roux and béchamel.

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You’ll say bravo to bechamel

Last week I showed you how to make a roux, which is basically flour cooked in fat, and in doing so we laid the foundation for greater things.

Roux isn’t for eating by itself, of course, but is used to thicken such things as sauces and gravies, which themselves are used in a supporting role to build a main dish.

One easy sauce to build from a roux is béchamel, also known as white sauce. Don’t worry: It tastes better than its rather bland name. In fact, in classical French cooking, this sauce is so important that it’s known as a “mother sauce.” It’s called that because from it even more elaborate sauces can be made.

Béchamel is a thick, milk-based sauce. It gets its thickness from the roux, which also helps give the sauce a nutty, hearty flavor.

Some béchamel recipes call for cooking onions with the roux for added flavor, but you can leave them out if you’re not hot on onions, are short on time, or want a smoother sauce without the need for straining. Other than the roux and the milk, about the only other things this sauce needs are a couple of bay leaves and a dash of nutmeg. And some time, but not a whole lot.

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Roux is the root of great recipes

Learning to cook is kind of like learning to read in that, once you have the foundations down, you can create just about anything.

If you’ll go with this analogy, you can think of roux as a single word. In communications, a word by itself may not do much, but combined with others, it can help make a literary masterpiece.

Roux (say, “roo”) by itself isn’t much, but it lays a foundation for much greater things. Roux is just flour and fat cooked together. The flour is usually white wheat flour such as the all-purpose kind you use for making pancakes and other staples, and the fat can be just about anything: butter, vegetable oil, bacon grease or drippings from other meat.

Roux is not meant to be eaten by itself. Rather, it is used to thicken recipes such as soups, stews and gravies. In culinary school, roux is among the first things you make, and from there you learn to use it in dishes that may require some time to make, but are among some of the most flavorful on the planet, among them the kind of mac ‘n cheese you see above.

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Culinary word defined: What is roux?

What does roux and a kangaroo have in common? Luckily not much in culinary terms, but in phonetics a lot. The latter part of the fighting marsupial’s name is how you pronounce this classic foundation in so many dishes: Roux is simply pronounced “roo.”

So, what is the stuff?

Roux is just flour and fat cooked together. Two simple ingredients, but together they can do a lot.

The flour is usually white wheat flour such as the popular all-purpose kind, and the fat can be just about anything: butter, vegetable oil, bacon grease or drippings from other meat.

Roux isn’t meant to be eaten by itself, but is used as a thickening agent in soups, stews, gravies and sauces. Unlike, say, a cornstarch and water slurry, roux can lend dishes a nutty flavor and even color, depending on how long you cook it.

In the coming days I’ll show you how to make roux, and from there, how to make a lovely bechamel sauce. But wait, there’s more! From our bechamel, we’ll make a bangin’ cheese sauce.

Stay tuned for those coming attractions. For now, make sure you have some flour and oil in your pantry, and sprinkle in a “roo” here and there in your conversations.


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