From gravy to béchamel, a roux helps thicken a sauce and deepen its flavor.

Alex Loh
February 21, 2021
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flour and butter in a pan
Credit: Getty Images / annick vanderschelden photography

Most of us have one dish, that no matter when or where we eat it, we're immediately reminded of Grandma's house. Maybe your grandmother makes the best mac and cheese or gumbo or gravy (if you're lucky, she makes all three!), that you've always wanted to recreate for yourself. While Grandma might say the recipes are a secret, we know the key ingredient that makes each of these dishes rich in flavor: a roux.

A roux (pronounced roo) is a combination of flour and fat that is used as a base for a variety of sauces including béchamel, gravy and more. According to Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, a roux is a method for "getting a starch into a sauce" and can help improve the flavor, color and consistency of the sauce—a sauce that's thickened with a good roux will be lump-free and will resist congealing.

While a roux is traditionally thought to have first appeared in late 17th-century French cuisine (the word roux stems from the French word for red), McGee notes that the method of making a roux appeared even earlier in German recipes in the late 16th century. Since its origins, a roux has also become common in Cajun and Creole cooking. Whichever cuisine you're making, a roux can help add depth of flavor to any dish. Learn more about the different types of roux, helpful tips for making one and how to incorporate it into your cooking for a deeper flavor that'll make Grandma proud.

Types of Roux

Before you can make a roux, you'll want to consider what color you'll need, which depends on the dish you're making. While some sources suggest there are four, or even five, different colors of roux, there are three basic shades: white, blonde and brown. A white roux is best for béchamel, whereas a blonde roux is great for gravy. The third type of roux, brown, is typically used for gumbo or a demi-glace sauce.

flour and butter in a pan
flour and butter in a pan
flour and butter in a pan
Left: White roux
Center: Blonde roux
Right: Brown roux

A darker roux means a more intense and toasty flavor than a lighter roux, but some recipes use more than one roux in a dish to create layers of flavor. As the color of a roux deepens, it'll also get thinner in consistency. Luckily, once you master the technique of making a roux, you'll be able to make all versions as they only differ in cook time.

Ingredients for a Roux

A roux is made from equal amounts of flour and fat in weight, and while the traditional method uses butter, you can riff on the type of fat. Other fats that work well (and can help impart flavor) in a roux are oil, bacon fat or pan drippings from a roast. If you're looking to make a gluten-free roux, we recommend this gluten-free flour, which can be substituted cup for cup (buy it: Amazon, $12). 

Steps & Tips for Making a Roux

  1. Melt the fat in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
  2. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and you achieve the desired color.

It takes just two simple steps to make a roux, but here are a few other tips to keep in mind. First, don't walk away from the roux. It can quickly turn colors and burn, so stay at the stove. Second, the flour can easily clump together, so be sure you're whisking constantly. Finally, there is a fine line between a brown roux and a burned roux, so it might take a little trial and error while you learn the proper smell and look of a good roux.

Once you've mastered roux-making, the possibilities are endless. Recipes like Seafood Gumbo, Spinach-Tomato Macaroni & Cheese and Lasagne al Forno have a bold flavor profile thanks to a roux, and now your dishes will too.