The Roux of Songwriting

I spent last night on the couch absorbed in news, but did pause for an hour or so to put together a lovely lemon butter parmesan sauce for the gnocchi about to expire in the fridge. I was thinking to make a something like a beurre blanc for the gnocchi—the beurre blanc recipe I found called for two sticks of butter which is a lot, even for me. I improvised instead. Starting a little roux with some butter and cornstarch in a pan.

Up until about a year ago, I’d never made a roux. Just a bit of butter and starch blended together at medium heat. Mix it until it’s a lively, golden play dough bubbling away at the bottom of your pan, then add liquid until it’s a thick happy sauce. Every time I’m scared I’ll mess it up somehow. I’m not sure it’s messable. If it starts browning and overcooking you can just call it a “chocolate roux” and move on with life.

While the roux was still primordial ooze in the pan I added finely diiced onion and later a bit of garlic to it. No white wine in the house, but plenty of dry vermouth. I added that as a liquid, stirred, (there was near constant stirring), and watched it become a nice thick gravy in the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, I’d chopped some broccoli and tossed it in a dry pan at med-hi heat (midway between the 7 and 8 on the dial of my electric coil stove) letting it char ever so gently. That came off and went in a bowl on the side, broccoli tends to get mushy unless it’s added last to a sauce. I hate mushy broccoli.

Mushy-rooms on the other hand are delicious. We had a few Creminis in the the fridge. I chopped them. Butter goes in the pan, mushrooms go in the pan, five or so minutes later, nice sautéed mushrooms. 

I was tending to the sauce in pan one, stirring away and adding a bit of water here and there so it wouldn’t get to dry. I’d started dusting it with parmesan at some point, (and stirring), the same way I’d make a Alfredo sauce, but added more water so the whole thing was a little looser, closer to the consistency of the buerre blanc I was thinking of. A little salt for seasoning. A little lemon juice for acid and brightness.

At this point I’d combined the broccoli with the mushy-rooms and tossed the gnocchi in with them. That was a mistake. It was another path to mushy broccoli. I quickly found some tongs and separated the gnocchi from the vegetables. Then carried on following the gnocchi directions.

Next veggies went into the lemony, parmesan-y primordial ooze, (more stirring). The gnocchi got divided between two plates. The lemon-parmesan sauce with mushyrooms and yummy broccoli when over the gnocchi. Dinner was served. There was one last “Fin du Monde,” (a Belgian style tripel) hiding in the back of the fridge which complimented the sauce just so.

There’s a corollary here to songwriting, (other crafts as well), that goes something like this. A few years ago, I made a roux for the first time. Another two years or so ago I’d made alfredo (the real way, which means no cream) for the first time. I knew corn starch or flour is often used to thicken a sauce. The principles behind all three is basically the same, combining fat, starch and liquid. I had just enough knowledge of all three things to know that what I envisioned “should” work, but had never executed the trick. This is inspiration. This is flow.

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