A church to which I once belonged assembled a cookbook and asked all members to contribute their favorite recipes.Â Knowing the longevity of such books, my Mother wisely warned me not to submit recipes that contained the phrase, “open a can of . . .” She said it would haunt me for the rest of my days.
I took her advice, submitted our family’s treasured “Shrimp and Smoked Sausage” recipe, and years later, I’m still getting complements.
Roux is the staple of many good Gulf Coast culinary creations, and yet there are still wonderful cooks who fear it, anticipating great complications.Â But if you’ve grown up clinging to the apron of an experienced cook, and you own a good cast iron skillet, (and bless your heart if you don’t) then you too, can “do a roux.”
Some etoufees, sauces, gravies and of course, our beloved gumbo, all start with a roux, so along with making a good hushpuppy, new cooks along the Gulf Coast are taught the art of the roux early on.
The first lesson I ever had in the kitchen, was to always close the silverware drawer before cracking an egg. I wasn’t allowed back in the kitchen for a long time after that, but when I was finally permitted to return for the second lesson, I learned to make a roux.
Gulf Coast cooks will vary the basics of oil vs. butter depending on the color and depth of the roux. But once you get the hang of it, and the correct rhythm; heat, heat –stir, stir –whisk, whiskÂ . . . magic begins.Â And one more requirement – you can’t be colorblind.Â “Blonde, copper and brunette” don’t refer to the charming belles on the front porch.
Knowing all about roux, I was somewhat surprised to hear of an old recipe using a roux that was new to me.Â It’s something that good, southern, country – women have cooked forever, and yet it had somehow escaped me.
Ever heard of Tomato Gravy?
At a family reunion, the wife of a second cousin once removed, and my Aunt were talking about pouring tomato gravy over biscuits. Why had I never heard of tomato gravy? I asked them how it was made and they looked at me like I had just asked how to whistle Dixie.Â What planet was I from?
I marched straight over to Mother and asked how she could have made such an error in raising me.Â She said my Daddy had never really liked Tomato Gravy, so like many other good things, the man’s preferences dominated the menu, and the legacy of the sauce in my family had died.
I hurried home and started researching tomato gravy, only to find that it is basically a roux with diced tomatoes thrown in. Seriously?Â That seemed too simple to be any good.Â Sometimes the butter or oil is replaced or enhanced with finger –snappin’ – good, and cholesterol – enhancing bacon grease.Â Mmmm.
This is the kind of dish you don’t need a recipe for, so it won’t ever make the pages of a church cookbook, and forget about it ever being in the Junior League books. Tomato gravy is in the same category as Jell-O or grits. You should just instinctively know how to make it.
I gave the tomato gravy a try and ate it over hot biscuits, and I loved it. My family did too, except for one picky teenager who doesn’t like to eat anything red except for M&M’s, but he’s not normal.
Now I have a new topping for biscuits and a new reason to love a good roux.
Which goes to show you, everything old is “roux” again!
*This story first appeared in the Gulf Coast Newspapers.
Click HERE to see my friend Rhoda’s recipe and photos for tomato gravy.