Cheese roux is a thickening agent used in cooking to make smooth, creamy sauces and dips. It starts with a cooked mixture of butter and flour called a white roux. Milk and cheese are then added to the roux to create a rich, flavorful cheese sauce.
Roux is a classic basic in cooking that forms the foundation of countless dishes. Understanding how to make one opens up a world of possibilities in the kitchen.
What is Roux?
Roux is a mixture of equal parts butter and flour cooked together. As the butter melts, the flour particles get coated in fat. Heating causes starch granules in the flour to swell and absorb liquid better.
This roux mixture thickens up liquids tremendously while adding a lovely richness. The more roux used, the thicker the resulting mixture becomes.
There are three main types of roux:
- White roux: Cooked just until the raw flour taste disappears, about 3-5 minutes. It maintains a light color and works well for delicate dishes.
- Blonde roux: Cooked a bit longer, around 5-10 minutes, allowing more complex nutty flavors to develop.
- Brown roux: Cooked for a longer time until it becomes a dark brown color, up to 30 minutes. Imparts an intense, smoky depth.
Key Takeaway: Roux is an equal part mixture of butter and flour cooked together to thicken sauces.
Making Cheese Roux
To make a basic cheese roux, you'll first prepare a white roux, then incorporate milk and cheese:
- Melt butter over low heat
- Whisk in an equal amount of flour by weight
- Cook 3-5 minutes, mixing constantly with a whisk
- Mixture will become paste-like
- Flour taste will cook out
- Season with salt, pepper, spices as desired
Add Milk and Cheese
- Gradually whisk in cold milk
- Allows better absorption
- Prevents lumps
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat
- Continuously whisk
- Sauce will thicken
- Remove from heat
- Stir in grated cheese a bit at a time
- Residual heat melts cheese
- Prevents separation
The milk and cheese transform the simple white roux into a lush, velvety cheese sauce!
How to Use Cheese Roux
The possibilities are endless when it comes to using homemade cheese sauce. Try it:
- As the base for mac and cheese
- Poured over steamed broccoli or cauliflower
- For nachos, tacos, enchiladas, and more
- For rich potato gratins au gratin
- As a dip for pretzels, veggies, or chips
- Stirred into risottos or pasta
- As a sauce for chicken, beef, or fish
With a simple swap of the cheese, you can produce different flavored sauces:
- Sharp cheddar for ultimate comfort
- Smoked gouda for deeper flavor
- Pepper jack to spice things up
You can also add mix-ins to customize your cheese sauce:
- Diced ham
- Crumbled bacon
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Caramelized onions
- Fresh herbs
- Roasted red peppers
- Fire-roasted tomatoes
- Chili peppers
- Hot sauce
The possibilities are truly endless when you make your own cheese sauce from a classic white roux base.
How do you make cheese roux?
To make cheese roux, first make a white roux by cooking equal parts butter and flour together for 3-5 minutes. Then gradually whisk in milk, bring it to a boil, and remove from heat. Finally, stir in grated cheese until melted and smooth.
Can you freeze cheese roux?
Yes, cheese roux freezes well for future use. Allow it to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating gently over low heat while stirring. Add a splash of milk if it becomes too thick.
What is the best cheese for roux?
Sharp cheddar makes a perfect base for cheese roux. Its tang pairs beautifully with the richness of the roux. However Gruyère, fontina, havarti, gouda, and Monterey Jack all melt smoothly as well. Feel free to experiment with blends too.
What can I use cheese roux for?
Cheese roux has many savory applications. Use it in pasta bakes, over steamed veggies, as a dipping sauce for pretzels or chips, stirred into risottos or pastas, over baked potatoes, as the base for mac and cheese, or as a sauce for meats.
Can you make cheese sauce without roux?
It is possible but challenging to make smooth cheese sauce without a roux. The fat and starch from the cooked flour mixture emulsifies the cheese beautifully in liquid. Without roux, cheese may become grainy or clump up.
Is cheese roux the same as bechamel sauce?
Bechamel sauce is made the same way as cheese roux, however it does not contain any cheese. Milk and aromatics are simply added to white roux. When cheese gets incorporated into bechamel, it transforms into what's known as a "Mornay sauce."
So in summary, yes cheese roux is quite similar to bechamel with the addition of melted cheese.
Understanding how to prepare the classic white roux cooking base opens up a whole new world of possibility in the kitchen.
Adding milk and cheese creates a rich, luscious cheese roux with limitless savory applications.
With a few pantry staples and a whisk, anyone can whip up this versatile, flavorful sauce at home with ease.