Angie Norwood Browne
In Louisiana, a dark brown roux is not just a thickener—it can be a benchmark for who you are as a person. It takes mettle to keep the roux on the stove until the very last minute. The flour must be just this side of burnt, yet with nary a hint of scorching. I will take the pan off the stove repeatedly, thinking I’ve done it, only to grimace and put it back on for just a tiny bit longer. I’m a babe in the woods when it comes to authentic Cajun and Creole cooking, but I have an appreciation for the unique toasted taste of dishes made with really dark, slow-cooked roux.
This sauce improves after a day or two and freezes well, so keep some on hand to serve as a dollop alongside a fried catfish fillet, to smother a sausage in a bun like a Cajun hot dog, or to simmer with virtually any mix of meats and seafood for a hearty meal with rice.
This version does not call for gumbo filé, powdered sassafras, a natural thickener with a unique slippery texture, because I’m not a fan. Stir a bit in at the end if you like. I usually make my own Cajun spice mix, but to simplify things, here I suggest using a good commercial blend.
Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour until it is smooth. Return the pan to the burner and cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it is chestnut brown. For really big pots of gumbo, cooking the roux can take almost an hour; for a small batch of sauce like this, it will be closer to 10 minutes.
You may find yourself taking the roux off the heat, checking the color, and then returning it to cook just a little longer; I do this a lot. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, and Cajun spice mix, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock, tomatoes, and salt and simmer, partly covered, for about 1 hour, until the sauce has thickened and the flavors have stewed together.
Season the sauce with the lemon juice, hot sauce, and salt to taste if needed. Stir in the parsley just before serving. Serve hot or refrigerate overnight for the flavors to develop even more. If storing, cover and refrigerate for 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.