Gumbo Roux: Ca C’est Bon, Mon Cher!


RouxIn full disclosure…I’m Cajun. (Translation from title:  That’s good, my dear!)

In further disclosure…I love to cook!  Therefore, part of my resolutions for the new year are cooking related.  What?  Don’t you have cooking goals??

In my experience as a Cajun and one who cooks, making roux [roo]relates to praying.  This seems fitting for me since prayer is also one of my resolutions.

While others are waiting for the Lord to speak a word to them through friends, Scripture, a homily…I know the Lord is speaking clearly to me through my Cajun heritage and my love of cooking.

Here is another disclosure – I am truly NOT a good cook by any stretch of the imagination, but I try hard.  That should count for something, right?

Roux is the foundation of most Cajun/Creole sauces, gumbos, and soups.  Roux serves to both flavor and thicken our dishes.  But roux is tricky.  Very tricky.

To make a roux, you must clear your calendar for at least 25-30 minutes.  Your focus must always be on the pot making the roux.  There is a very thin line between making a deep rich dark chocolate color roux which is very flavorful and full of beautiful color and burning it to the ground.  Believe me, I have burned it to the ground many times.  This happens when I have not cleared my schedule.

My father and I made a seafood gumbo for New Year’s Day (don’t worry – I made cabbage, cornbread, and black-eyed peas, too!).  I was astonished to witness my father using a pre-made roux for the gumbo – FROM A JAR!  What was he doing???  This was not going to be the same authentic gumbo of my ancestors!  What a shame!  I wanted to reprimand my father, but I held my tongue out of respect.  What is so odd is that the gumbo was delicious in the end.  That was most shocking of all.

You see, I have never used the pre-made rouxs.  Here is how you make a roux:

1 cup oil

1 cup flour

Stir constantly on medium heat for 25-30 minutes until dark chocolate brown in color.

Now, this may not seem complicated at all, but believe me, after stirring for approximately 5 minutes constantly, you want to call in reinforcements.  I have been so desperate to call in the 8 year old – the spastic 8 year old!

After about 10 minutes into the project, you are committed.  You begin to see the changes in color; the smell is delicious and heavenly.  It truly becomes a work of art.  This is something to be proud of as a cook.

At 15 minutes, you arrive at the thin line between burned and beautiful.  In order to continue with the momentum of the roux, you must make decisions…either lower the heat and keep stirring, take it away from the fire even though the color is not changed, or keep stirring with the hopes of achieving the beautiful color hoped for at the beginning.  This decision must be made post haste!  The risk is to stop stirring.  Whatever the decision, you must not stop stirring.  This is the moment of greatness in roux making.

Usually, I chose to lower the heat a bit and keep stirring.  This typically is the correct decision by both smell and color.  It’s a difficult thing to cook using only two senses, but sometimes, that is all that is availed to you at the time.

By 25 minutes, you are quite close to the exact smell and color needed for a perfect gumbo base.  It is the beauty you have waited for all 25 minutes.  You close out the stirring and refrain from pushing it to the burned phase.  Slowly, you stir a few more times and place it on the back burner to start the next phase – the cooking of the gumbo (equally artful, but a lot less intense).

I would venture to say that an average cook would never devote more than one 25 minute interval of roux making a day.  It’s too intense.  Doing this more than once a day cannot be sustained in the long-run.

I get so frustrated at times with my prayer life.  I judge that I should be able to pray all day – be close to the heart of Jesus throughout the day through my words and actions, always recalling Him as I go throughout my day.  When I fail at this, I wonder why I can’t seem to get it right.  Why is my prayer life burning to the ground?  I want the flavorful and beautiful prayer life I’ve dreamed I would have in this life.

I am reminded of the lessons of making a perfect roux:  an intense 25 minutes, followed by normality and the flow of the next steps; pay attention to the details during the 25 minutes; use all the senses available during the 25 minutes; and intensity can only be sustained for 25 minutes, given my station in life – and only once a day.  The rest of the time can be spent reaping the graces from the well maintained 25 minutes.

I usually shoot the moon about my prayer life.  I try to mimic a more monastic contemplative life, even though my station in life does not dictate such a prayer rhythm.  When our parish does first Friday Adoration, I sign up for several hours, rather than just the one hour.  I resolve at the beginning of each year to come closer to a monastic prayer life, and fail each and every year, without fail.

Then I remember that my particular vocation calls me to serve the Lord through a very different approach.  The extension of my prayer life includes caring for the children and my husband, working 40 hours or more in my career, and serving through ministry as the Lord calls me.  My intense times of prayer are not dictated by the Liturgy of the Hours, although these times could include that prayer.  However, I usually find I do not have the energy for such intensity day in and day out.

It is advisable for me to approach my prayer life as I do my roux making.  When I practice my roux making on a regular basis, I find that I am much more in tune with the critical moments during that time, and I am better able to use the senses of smell and sight much more effectively.  The same is true in my prayer time:  As I practice praying intensely once a day, I am better able to hear the voice of God through people, Scripture, homilies, etc.  I understand the plan the Lord has for me.  My day becomes an extension of that prayer, and I experience more joy throughout the mundane moments that make up my vocation.

Here are 5 things I am committing to this year in regards to my prayer life:

  1. Each day, I commit to 25 minutes of intense prayer. These 25 minutes will be steady and well stirred, and I will try my best to use all senses available to me to hear the Lord during this time.
  2. I commit to a gratitude journal. This gratitude journal is a tool to assist me in developing graciousness for all blessings from the Lord.  I have the downfall of focusing on what others may have, and what I do not.  However, this year, I intend to develop the virtue of gratitude.
  3. I plan to re-consecrate my life to Jesus, through the most perfect example of Christianity we have: Our Blessed Mother.  She is my Mother, and I love her so much.  She has much to teach me about virtue and prayer.
  4. I commit to learning deeply about one saint. I have not chosen that saint yet, but I am happy to have suggestions!
  5. I commit to reading Scripture daily, even if only for a few minutes. I want to instill this habit in the children as well, and I believe that begins with my example.

I love the new year!  Resolutions abound, and everyone is so committed and thankful!  Growing in my prayer life is paramount in my resolutions this year.  If you’ll excuse me…I’m off to make some roux!


Image and Text Copyright 2015 Mary Wallace


About Author

Mary Wallace, PhD, is a devout Catholic wife, mother of 4 daughters, and college administrator. She is co-host of a Catholic radio show: Faith and Good Counsel, on Baton Rouge Catholic Community Radio. Mary is also a contributing writer at the Integrated Catholic Life. Follow Mary on Facebook.

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