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I love gumbo, and make it about once or twice a month. However, I've noticed that my roux will occasionally separate from my stew and float up to the surface. I've sampled it, just to see if it had absorbed some of the flavors, but all I got was a floury taste.

I've had gumbo enough times to know that this shouldn't be happening - the roux should be enriching the flavor of the stew and mixing in, but it isn't.

A rough outline of what I do:

  1. Make roux with vegetable oil and flour in a 1:1 ratio.

  2. Mix in bell pepper, celery, and onions (aka "trinity"); stir frequently for 10-20 minutes.

  3. Mix in garlic, cayenne pepper; stir for two minutes.

  4. Mix in thyme, bay leaves, white wine; bring to boil.

  5. Add chicken, andouille, shrimp, tomatoes, clam juice, chicken broth; bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes.

  6. Add okra; simmer for 10 minutes or until ready to serve.

Here's some thoughts on possible problems:

  1. I usually cook it in a slow cooker once I have all the ingredients simmering. I've only cooked it the conventional way (read: in a pot) once, and it didn't separate. (When I cooked it in the pot, some of the roux was in the stew that boiled off the top of the lid; a tasting revealed that it was more flavorful than the stew).

2. I've sometimes gotten lazy or been in a rush, so I only cook the trinity for 10 minutes instead of the full 20. (I've also noticed that the trinity gets uncomfortably slimy-looking after the 10 minutes, which has prompted me to prematurely move to the next step on a few occasions.)

And finally, an error I am not making: I am not burning the roux. It may smell smoky, but it is not burned.

Given this, what could be the cause?

EDIT: I've just made it again, and it's definitely not because I'm undercooking the trinity. Based on the evidence, I'm going to go with Sobachatina's answer, until I can try it again.

SOLUTION: Forgot to update this until I got pinged about a change on this question. The slow cooker made the roux separate from the gumbo; it has never separated from the stew when cooked in a pot, likely because the starch doesn't fully gelatinize when in the slow cooker. If anyone wants to look further and try to figure out when the starch is sufficiently gelatinized, drop a comment below with your result and I'll update this solution.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Making a roux has two purposes:

  1. Coat the flour granules with fat so they are able to dissolve into the cooking liquid without binding up.
  2. Cook the flour to remove the raw cereal flavor.

When the cooked, fat-covered, flour is introduced to boiling liquid the starch granules swell and explode tangling up the cooking liquid. The cooking liquid is thus thickened and delicious.

If your roux is separating then the starch has not gelatinized. Because you saw this problem in the slow cooker and not in a pot I suspect that you are simply not bringing your liquid to a full enough boil to gelatinize your starch.

I have never seen a roux separate out. The roux should dissolve into the cooking liquid. You might check your ratio and make sure that you don't have too much oil in your roux. Variability in measuring your flour might account for why you see this intermittently.

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Interesting; I had no idea the roux gelatinizes until I read the Wikipedia entry on starch gelatinization. While a possibility, I don't think that this is the case, since I simmer my soup for 5 minutes before placing it in the slow cooker. I'd need to cook it again before making this conclusion, so it might take me a while to get back to this. –  Edwin May 26 '12 at 17:50
    
I'm interested in hearing how it turns out for you. BTW, simmering is generally considered just below boiling or about 200F. Wheat starch gelatinizes at 212F. It is possible to simmer it all day and not have it thicken. –  Sobachatina May 26 '12 at 22:00
    
Really? I always bring it to boil, then just low enough to continue boiling. I hope that doesn't mean I've been cooking wrong all this time. –  Edwin May 26 '12 at 22:11
    
No- that sounds correct. I just wanted to make sure that it actually came to a boil. –  Sobachatina May 27 '12 at 2:38
    
If it's a very low boil, then it's really only boiling at the bottom. The rest of the pot might be enough cooler that it doesn't work. –  Jefromi Jun 29 '12 at 15:52

You might try doing the roux and chicken stock in a separate pan. Make the roux, and when it starts to turn golden (or dark brown - your choice), pour in a cup of stock and whisk continuously while adding. This will make a gravy like substance, to which you can add the rest of the stock to thin out to the correct consistency. There's really no reason to coat the vegetables in roux and the only reason the traditional recipe does so is so that you can get away with one pan.

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I assumed that coating the vegetables in the roux was supposed to be a substitute for stir-frying or cooking the vegetables in oil, as well as help the vegetables soften up for the stew. I'd try your suggestion, but unfortunately I only have two pots which I could do this in, which I am using for the stew and rice, respectively. –  Edwin May 26 '12 at 17:42

I cook gumbo all the time. I usually cook large gumbo for parties.. 30 quarts or greater at a time. I can tell you from experience exactly what is happening... And one of the answers above is right on. Your roux is not mixing due to a temperature issue.

I ALWAYS use 2 pots when making a gumbo... No matter what kind of gumbo it is. I use a cast iron skillet for the roux and a 30qt stock pot or bigger for the actual gumbo.

When I make the roux, I get the fat/flour mix to a chocolate color before cooling it with the trinity. Once I put the trinity in the roux, i stir and sit the roux for 5 - 10 minutes. It cools.

When I transfer to my stock, the stock has to be very hot... A rapid (roaring) boil. If not, the roux will never mix. The stock has to be hot enough for the flour to mix. The oil opened the flour using heat. If the stock isn't hot enough, the heated, open flour will cool and close on impact with the stock causing it to "separate". Once this happens, the roux is toast. Start spooning!

Make sure the temperature of the stock is very hot. Just because you see a boil doesn't mean anything. You need to stir the stock to make sure the boil isn't just from the bottom center of the pot (where the source of the heat is). Though you may see a boil in the middle, if is most likely from the bottom center and rising to the top (heat rises) leaving the sourounding stock below boiling. STIR. STIR. STIR the stock and make sure you have a RAPID boil around the stock and not just the middle. Once you add the roux, continue to stir making sure you don't let the cooler roux affect areas of the stock. Stirring constantly for 5 minutes of so will make sure you blend the roux with the entire stock as well.

I have also had this happen when using a stove or cookware that I was not familiar with. If you end up with a separated roux, spoon out what you can... Make a new roux and add this new roux back in. If the original roux was a dark roux, if will separate as a sheet and not break into granules that sink or are too small to fish out with a spoon. It will not hurt the gumbo. You basically are left with a stock or soup. Get the old roux out.... Boil that stock high... Add a new roux and go to town with the gumbo, chances are some of the original roux did mix well. Cleaning out what didn't mix and adding a new roux will surprise you how thick and flavorful the gumbo can be.

On a side note, the lighter the roux, the greater the roux will act as a thickening agent. The darker the roux, the less it thickens BUT the more it FLAVORS! I have actually intentionally made two rouxs for the same gumbo.... One for thickness and one for flavor. It's easy to screw up by having too much roux... But once you get used to doing it and learning where the right mix is, it can make for an amazing gumbo.

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You must temper your roux. Hot roux likes cold stock, cold roux likes hot stock.

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4  
And why is that? –  lemontwist Dec 27 '12 at 5:59
1  
On Christmas day I made a sauce using hot stock and a hot roux. Today I used the same stock, but cold from the refrigerator. The sauce made with a cold stock took a little longer, but the end results were near-enough identical. I don't think that this is the answer. –  Chris Steinbach Dec 27 '12 at 20:28

Not cooked enough. Boil it an additional 15 minutes on the stove top. I always use unbleached all-purpose flour. Good-Luck!

Chef Bourque'

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