How I ruined my roux (and subsequently, my lasagne)

When I started my How to Eat cooking project I fully prepared myself for many kitchen disasters.

I anticipated failure and I knew things would go wrong.

But what I didn’t expect was to mess up things I already knew how to make. Case in point: a simple roux sauce.

Historically, I’ve made a roux using a reasonably slap-dash method from (my very poor) memory.

Nevertheless, I’ve always ended up with a smooth, lump-free sauce.

I decided that bechamel sauce would be a fairly simple recipe to strike off the list. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my progress so far has been extremely slow. At this rate I imagine I’ll be finished around the time Skynet rules the world.

As it would take me all of ten minutes to throw together a bechamel sauce and chuck it into a lasagne I figured it would be a quick win.

I threw together a ragu mid-afternoon, and after it had been bubbling away in the slow cooker for a couple of hours I got cracking with the bechamel.

The method in HtE is different to my traditional haphazard method, which goes something like this:

  1. Chuck some (quantity unknown) butter in a pan and melt.
  2. Throw in some (roughly same amount as butter) plain flour and mix until you’re chasing a yellow ball of mush around the pan.
  3. Add a splash of milk. Stir until absorbed.
  4. Repeat until ball of mush stops being ball and simply becomes mush.
  5. Continue adding milk and stirring on the heat.
  6. Panic that what you are stirring in no way resembles sauce.
  7. Wish you had called your mum to verify how to make a roux.
  8. Breathe sigh of relief because mush has magically transformed into sauce.

The equal measures of butter and flour in a pan was the same as my usual method but that’s where the similarities ended.

Before long, I was microwaving 300ml of milk and removing the flour/butter combo from the heat. HtE advised that it should be the “size and colour of a walnut”. What I had was yellow and the size of a ping pong ball, so I was pretty far off the mark.

I then wondered if I even knew what the size or colour of a walnut was.*

*Still not sure.

I added a splash of warm milk and whisked. This was a mistake because my yellow ping pong ball of mush got trapped inside the balloon whisk.

After tapping (bashing frantically) the whisk on the edge of the pan to release the mixture, I reverted to using a wooden spoon to stir the roux into submission.

The mixture did not resemble sauce.

This normally happens whenever I make a roux (refer to step 6 above), so I was still hopeful.

Even as I continued to add milk the sauce was looking extremely lumpy. I turned the heat back on hoping this would improve things.

It did not.

All the milk was added. The sauce was gloopy.

I switched back to the balloon whisk, but no amount of frenetic whisking was enough to beat out the lumps.

In the event of a lumpy sauce, HtE recommended either beating it with a stick blender, which I didn’t have or blast in a liquidiser, which I couldn’t do because I’d illegally heated the sauce against the advice of the recipe.

It would just have to be lumpy.

Oven on, I spooned out the ragu into the Pyrex dish.

It’s so rare that I make lasagne that I can never remember how to order the layers.

Once again, I enlisted the help of Google.

The top result said: ragu, pasta, bechamel, pasta, ragu and so on. My gut feeling was this was not the right order. But due to my excessive laziness, I didn’t verify it. So I piled the lasagne high in the dish.

My bechamel looked like lumpy PVA glue.

I failed to do even layers of ragu and bechamel, so I ran out of bechamel which meant that the top layer was just ragu with pasta and cheese on top.

When it was cooked, it was the driest lasagne ever created.

Filled with rage, I wanted to hurl the Pyrex dish filled with my hot dry mess across the kitchen.

But I held myself back, not least because the the aftermath would be horrendous to clean up.

I talked myself around thanks in part to the ragu, which really was surprisingly delicious.

So what have I learned?

Firstly, to use an actual recipe for lasagne so I know how much bechamel to make and how to layer it so it doesn’t come out like a dry revolting mess (thanks a bunch number one result on Google *ahem* Jamie Oliver *ahem*).

Secondly, I am flat out done with making sauces. So far, I have over-lemoned my hollandaise, separated my mayo, curdled my bearnaise and made a lumpy bechamel. I have learned everything I need to know about sauces and I am done.


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