CAN YOU MAKE A ROUX?

Some years ago – back in the 1990s I think – my friend Pat Stuart (who I met through Prodigy’s bulletin boards) told me about a cookbook title that sounded far-fetched – “Who’s Your Mama, Are you Catholic and can you make a Roux?” – and that may have been my first introduction to making a roux.

Well, now, lo these many years later – I have a copy of “Who’s Your Mama – et al” and I also have a booklet titled “First – You Make a Roux”. “Who’s Your Mama” was written by a Cajun Creole lady named Marcelle Bienvenu.

The second title, “First – You Make a Roux” was published by Lafayette Museum in Lafayette Louisiana. The latter title, you may be surprised to learn, was first published in 1954 and by 1960 had gone through five editions.

“Who’s Your Mama…” has an interesting explanation as to how the author came up with the title for her cookbook. Marcelle Bienvenu writes in the introduction “It’s important I the South for people to make a connection when being introduced to strangers or newcomers. It’s long been a tradition, especially in south Louisiana, to find out ‘Who are your people?’ This is not only to make conversation but also to find out about a new person’s background.
Through this line of questioning,” Marcelle continues, “one will often find long-lost cousins or some kind of family connection. It should also be noted that when the Acadians were deported from Nova Scotia in the 1750s, families were separated and many made their way to French-Catholic south Louisiana. They sought to find relatives (close or distant) in their new homeland…”

Marcelle explains that while it may seem rude to visitors and those unacquainted with the local customs, Acadians are innately curious. So, you may be asked about your mother’s maiden name, what schools you attended and what your father does for a living.

With all this in mind Marcelle says she was inspired by the dialogue in a play called “The Band Inside Your Head” produced by the Southwestern Louisiana’s Opera Theatre. The story in the play is that of a young Acadian fellow who left the area to find fame & fortune and returned with his bride-to-be. His family was anxious to know more about this young lady so there is a dialogue in the play where the young man ‘s family asks

Who’s Your mama?
Are you Catholic?
Can you make a roux?

Marcelle says these words kept going round and round in her head for days and she finally settled on them as the title for her book.

The first edition of “Who’s Your Mama..” was published in 1991 and was out of print for a number of years. It was finally reprinted in 2006 and my copy is one of these. This is an easy to read cookbook with a lot of family storytelling and photographs about Marcelle’s Cajun Creole family.
For those of us who collect cookbooks and “read them like novels” “Who’s Your Mama…” is a great addition to your collection. This will quickly become your “go-to” cookbook when you want to try your hand at Crawfish Jambalaya or a Crawfish Bisque, authentic fried catfish or crab and shrimp stew, chicken liver pate or Bouillabaisse. There are recipes for blackberry ice cream or blackberry cobbler, fig preserves (which I often made when we had 2 fig trees in Arleta), pound cake and crazy cake, fruitcake and gingerbread, pecan pie sweet potato pie, and one of my all time favorites, pecan pralines (my praline recipe came to me years ago from a penpal in Louisiana) – these and many others are in “Who’s Your Mama…” along with many stories related to the recipes.

Marcelle Bienvenu is the author of three books—“Who’s Your Mama…” and “Who’s Your Mama the sequel”, and “Cajun Cooking for Beginners”. She is the co author of several cookbooks with Chef Emeril Lagasse, including “Louisiana: Real & Rustic”, “Emeril’s Creole Christmas”, “Emeril’s TV Dinners” and “Every Day’s a Party”. Marcelle also co authored “Eula Mae’s Cajun Kitchen” with Eula Mae Dore, a longtime cook for the McIlhenny family on Avery Island, and “Stir the Pot, a History of Cajun Cusine” with Carl Braseaux and Ryan Breasseaux. Ms. Bienvenu edited the 1987 edition of the Times Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, originally published in 1901 and reissued to celebrate the newspaper’s 150 anniversary.

Since I am so partial to pralines, I will share one of Marcelle’s recipes for pecan pralines:

To make Pecan Pralines you will need

1 lb of light brown sugar (3 cups)
1/8 tsp salt
¾ cup evaporated milk
1 TBSP butter
2 cups pecan halves

Combine the sugar, salt, milk and butter in a heavy pot. Cook over low heat stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Add the pecans and cook over medium heat to soft ball stage. Remove from the heat and cool for about 5 minutes. Stir rapidly until the mixture begins to thicken and evenly coats the pecans. Drop by the tablespoonful onto aluminum foil or onto a lightly buttered baking sheet. When the candy has cooled gently lift it from the surface and store in an airtight container. Note: if candy becomes too stiff, add a few drops of hot water to the mixture. ***

“FIRST – YOU MAKE A ROUX” was compiled by the Les Vingt Quatre Club and the first edition was published in July, 1954. There were at least five editions, as my copy was one of those, published in September 1960. “FIRST – YOU MAKE A ROUX” is what I would refer to as a recipe booklet, with soft covers and only 45 pages. The cookbook was a collection of recipes by members of Les Vingt Quatre Club and their friends as part of their contribution towards the upkeep of the Lafayette Museum.

In the “History” pages, part of an introduction to the recipe booklet, we learn that the museum building itself was originally located near Pinhook Bridge on Bayou Vermilion, where the community of Lafayette was known a petit Marchae.
The original Acadian home which is part of the museum buildings was built prior to January 27, 1836. We learn, “Its unique architecture emphasizes the rich tradition so inseparably connected with this structure…”

And from Google: “The Alexandre Mouton House is a lovely house museum located in the heart of downtown Lafayette. The original structure [was] built in early 1800s by the founder of Vermilionville, Jean Mouton. [It] Later became home to Louisiana’s 12th governor, Alexandre Mouton. It is now restored to its 1850s grandeur and serves as a repository of the history and culture of Acadiana.Available for private tours, meetings and small catered events. Beautiful grounds and gardens available for small events and photo shoots.”
There is SO much information about Lafayette Museum – I would love to go to Lafayette and see it all for myself. For now we’ll focus on the cookbook that some foresighted women were clever enough to compile.

Under “Soups & Gumbos” the authors state, “It seems that many Creole recipes being with the words “first—you make a roux” and explain that this is a foundation mixture of fat and flour which should be made in a heavy pot or skillet (*a cast iron Dutch oven is wonderful for creating a roux.) The two ingredients are cooked together over low heat while stirring constantly until the mixture is a dark brown color. Equal proportions of lard and flour is used…”

I began making white gravy to go with fried chicken when I was a new bride, learning from my mother in law. I had never even SEEN white (or milk) gravy until I saw my mother in law making it. Gradually as I learned gravy making, I developed a sense of what “first you make a roux” is all about. One of the tricks I learned was mixing flour and solid Crisco shortening together – as much flour as you can incorporate into the shortening – and then mixing Kitchen Bouquet liquid seasoning in with it. I keep a jar of this in the frig ready for making a dark brown gravy. On page 5 of “First – You Make a Roux” is this introduction to soups and gumbos: “It seems that many Creole recipes begin with the words ‘First—you make a Roux.’ This is a foundation mixture of fat and flour which should be made in a heavy iron pot or skillet. The two ingredients are cooked together over low heat, being stirred constantly until the mixture is a dark brown color. Equal proportions of lard and flour are used.”

So that, friends, is what a roux (pronounced rue) is. I have often heard girlfriends complain that they can’t make gravy (it’s often the one thing I am most often asked to bring to a dinner or a party). My greatest challenge a few years ago was making enough gravy for a Thanksgiving dinner for 60 people. Maybe this is a topic we can discuss in further detail in another post.

But getting back to “First—You make a Roux” – not surprisingly, this little booklet is still in great demand. It is filled with recipes for making CourtBoullion, Chicken and Okla Gumbo, Gumbo File (fee-lay), Crawfish Bordelaise, Stuffed crabs, deviled crab, Baked stuffed fish with stuffing an sauce, sauce for baked fish*, shrimp and eggplant jambalaya, Crayfish Bisque, Baked Fryers with Mushrooms—and many, many, more. If you can find a copy of “First—You Make a Roux” – be prepared to make it one of your favorite go-to cookbooklets. One of my favorite recipes is that for making a sauce for baked fish. To make this recipe you will need:

½ cup butter or margarine
2 egg yolks
¼ tsp salt
1 TBSP lemon juice or vinegar
A few grains of cayenne pepper
½ lb shrimp, (uncooked)

Peel shrimp, remove sand vein, wash thoroughly. Boil or cook as directed as directed for shrimp rice dressing (stuffing for fish)** Divide butter or margarine into 3 pieces. Put 1 piece in a heavy bowl with egg yolks and lemon juice. Cook over hot, but never boiling water, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon until the butter melts. Add second piece of butter and stir until thick, and as mixture thickens, add third piece. Take immediately from heat and beat with wooden spoon until glossy. Season If mixture separates because it was cooked too rapidly, stir in 2 TBSP heavy cream or boiling water drop by drop. Cut shrimp in 4 or 5 pieces or leave whole. Add the sauce and serve over baked fish.

**From stuffing for fish – peel shrimp, remove sand vein and wash thoroughly. Place shrimp in a pot, cover tightly. Cook for 20 or 30 minutes or until shrimp are cooked. Drain shrimp. (Sandy’s cooknote: I don’t think you ever need 20 or 30 minutes to cook shrimp – I would cook it for about 5 minutes or less so that it isn’t tough but have the water boiling before you add the shrimp.)
Sandy’s Cooknote: One of my great culinary discoveries was a caper sauce over white fish as it was served at the Smokehouse Restaurant in Toluca Lake. I have kept capers on hand ever since. When I am cooking a white fish, such as Tilapia, in lemon juice with lemon pepper, I love sprinkling capers over all of it. I think this sauce for baked fish would be greatly enhanced by some capers.
“FIRST—YOU MAKE A ROUX” from Lafayette Museum is out of print although I found numerous hits when I typed “First—you make a roux” into Google. But if you want the one from Lafayette Museum or the one published by Les Vingt Quatre Club, I found four copies available on Amazon.com starting at $5.90. Barnes & Noble has one copy @ $11.20 and Alibris.colm has two copies, starting at $6.50. Please do bear in mind that this is a softcover booklet with a pink and black cover (that looks red on my computer). And when you type in “First—You make a Roux” some other Louisiana cookbook titles pop up.

The Louisiana Classic cookbook “Who’s Your Mama Are you Catholic, and Can you Make a Roux”, by Marcelle Bienvenu is available on Amazon.com new or used, starting at $14.76 for a new copy or $13.95 for a pre owned one. Marcelle also has her own website with some of her cookbooks for sale. You can visit the website at http://www.marcellebienvenu.com.

I should add in closing, I have several bookshelves packed with Louisiana cookbooks, including the original Picayune Creole Cookbook (although mine is the 9th edition) and the following recipes for making either a brown roux or a white roux.

To make a BROWN roux you will need:

1 TBSP butter, 1 TBSP flour

In making the Roux, which is the foundation of a fancy sauce, melt the tablespoon of butter slowly and add gradually the flour, sprinkling it in and stirring constantly till every particle is a nice delicate brown. Never make it too brown because it must continue browning as the other ingredients are added in the order given in this book. It is a great mistake to pile all ingredients one after another, pell-mell, into a dish, in the course of preparation…In making a roux for cooking gravies or smothering meats the proportions are one of shortening, two of flour, butter always making a richer gravy than shortening, and sometimes being too rich for delicate stomachs. If there is the slightest indication of burnt odor or overbrowning, throw the roux away and wash the utensil before proceeding to make another. Remember that even a slightly burnt sauce will spoil the most savory dish.

To make a White Roux you will need 1 TBSP flour and 1 TBSP butter.

The White Roux is made exactly like the brown roux only that the butter and flour are put simultaneously into the saucepan and not allowed to brown. It is then moistened with a little broth or boiling water and allowed to boil for a few minutes to thicken. The White Roux is the foundation of all white sauces or those containing milk and cream. It is also used in nearly all purees…”
(*Sandy’s cooknote – the proportions of one tablespoon of flour and one tablespoon of butter should make one cup of Roux. If you want more than one cup of roux, increase the butter in the same proportion as the flour. When I am making a white sauce I usually melt about 3 tablespoons of butter and mix it with 3 tablespoons of flour—and the liquid, then, can be three cupfuls. I like making white sauce with evaporated milk –1½ cups of evaporated milk mixed with 1 ½ cups of water makes a nice rich sauce. Or, use 3 cups of milk.

If you would like additional information on sauces—please refer to my posts dated February 5, 2011, titled “Getting Sauce” – Parts one, two, and three.

Happy cooking – and Happy Cookbook Collecting!

Sandy

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