Tips for Using Thickening Agents
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Culinary Uses

Tips for Using Thickening Agents

  • Before you add a thickener to a sauce, skim the fat from the top of the sauce.  Once you've added the thickener, the fat will be harder to remove.
  • Flour is a good thickener for gravies, gumbos, and stews, since it gives them a smooth, velvety texture.   It's best to mix flour with fat first, either by making a Roux or Beurre Manié, or by flouring and frying stew meat before adding a Carrying Liquid to the pot.  If you wish to cut fat from your diet, you can instead mix the flour with water and add it to the sauce, but you'll need to cook it for quite awhile to get rid of the starchy, flour taste.  Sauces thickened with flour become opaque, and they may become thin again if they're cooked too long or if they're frozen and then thawed.
  • Starch thickeners like cornstarch are mixed with an equal amount of cold water, then added to warm liquids to thicken them.   They're a good choice if you want a lowfat, neutral-tasting thickener.  They give dishes a glossy sheen, which looks wonderful if you're making a dessert sauce or pie filling, but a bit artificial in a gravy or stew.
  • If you get lumps in your sauce from a thickener, blend the sauce in a blender or food processor until it's smooth.  
  • Cereal grains like oatmeal, couscous, soup pasta, farina, are often used to thicken soups.
  • Reduction is a slow but low-fat way of thickening sauces and concentrating flavors.  Just cook down the sauce in an uncovered pan until it's thickened to your liking.
  • Meat and Fish Glaces are a time-consuming, or expensive, if you buy them ready-made,-way of thickening and enriching sauces.  They're made by reducing stocks until they're thick and gelatinous.
  • A good way to thicken soups or stews is to add grated starchy vegetables, or to purée the vegetables and then add them to the sauce.
  • Nuts make good, flavorful thickeners for stews, though they're often expensive and high in fat.  Just grind them down to a flour or butter, and add them to the dish.
  • Egg yolks add a silky, velvety texture to soups and sauces, but they'll turn into scrambled eggs if they're not introduced carefully into the hot liquid.  
  • Cream, once reduced, gives sauces a rich texture and flavor as it thickens them, but it's high in fat.  To make a low-fat cream sauce, use evaporated milk mixed with a starch thickener.