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Thickening Agents For Sauces And Soups Reviewed
Roux – Equal parts flour to fat (clarified butter is traditional). There are three different stages for rouxs including white, blond and brown. Full thickening power is not realized until sauce or soup is brought up to a simmer after the roux is incorporated. For ratios and more detailed guidelines, check out this post on how to make and use a roux.
Liason – A mixture of heavy cream and eggs, added just at the end of the cooking process to slightly thicken, but mostly enrich, sauces and soups. The standard ratio for a liaison is 16:1:2. So for every 16 ounces (or one pint) of sauce, you will need 1 egg yolk and 2 ounces of cream. The liaison will be tempered with up to 1/3 of the warm sauce or soup before incorporated. This helps to keep the eggs from coagulating. For more information, check out this post on how to make and use a liaison.
White Wash – A mixture of water and flour is whisked together into a “slurry” before being incorporated into a sauce. The water helps to hydrate the starch molecules in the flour, preventing the flour from clumping when it hits the hot sauce or soup. This is an extremely poor technique to use. It is only listed here for sake of completeness.
Beurre Manie – Also known as “The Lazy Chef’s Roux,” Beurre Manie is equal parts of flour and whole butter kneaded together until it forms something like a dough. Pieces of this dough are then broken apart and added to simmering sauces or soups to thicken them. It is recommend that you simmer the sauce for at least 20 minutes more to cook out any raw, starchy flavor the flour introduces. Use the same ratios of Beurre Manie that you would a Roux.
Corn Starch – Has twice the thickening power of flour. Most commonly added to a soup or sauce in a slurry form, using a 1:1 mixture of water to Corn Starch. To thicken a sauce or soup with the consistency of water to a traditional nape stage (coats the back of a spoon), you will need 2 oz of Corn Starch for every 1 qt of sauce or soup. Full thickening power will not be realized until your sauce begins to simmer. Corn Starch has tendency to give sauces a smooth and shinny appearance. It is used extensively in Asian cooking, especially Chinese Cuisine.
Arrow Root- Very similar to Corn Starch with the same thickening power. It is used exactly in the same fashion as Corn Starch to thicken sauces and soups. Has a much more neutral taste than Corn Starch, but tends to be more expensive. Most commonly added as a slurry, and its full thickening power is not realized until the sauce is brought to a simmer.
Farine – Literally the French word for “flour”. As a thickening technique it refers to dusting your product (usually a protein) in flour. The excess flour is then shaken off, and the product is sauté d. The pan is then usually de-glazed, and a sauce is built on top of this base. Also commonly used to build a base for thick soups and stews.
Panade – Most commonly used to stabilize and bind meat balls and pâtés, it is usually a mixture of day old bread and some sort of liquid; stock, milk, water, etc. In the case of thickening sauces or soups, the bread is usually browned in butter and then simmered into the base that you wish to thicken. It can either be left as is, or blended and strained for a more refined consistency.
Food Grade Gums – Food grade gums are really emerging as the thickening agent of choice in a lot of high end kitchens. They’re gaining popularity because they are extremely neutral in flavor and are added in such low concentrations (usually les than 0.5% by weight), that they have no effect on color or flavor. One of the most commonly used food grade gums for this purpose is Xanthan Gum, which can be picked up at a lot of health foods stores.