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Mar 23, 2004 12:51 PM

Interesting thickening agents

  • l

I'm the kind of cook who wings it a lot, mostly based on experience, and I'm really interested in understanding the properties of ingredients.

You can almost categorize cuisines by the thickening agents they use. I've got a mental list of thickening agent that work, though I usually rely on the standards:

White flour-butter roux for French dishes
Cornstarch for Asian dishes
Beurre manee for stews

Then there are the things for particular dishes:
Flour-oil brown roux for gumbo
Cooked, pureed rice for bisque
Butter for rich sauces

Here are some that are open for discussion:

Coleman's Dry Mustard--I've found this to be an amazing thickener. Does anyone use it as such and for what?

Stale bread--Thinking of Italian soups and English bread sauce. Anyone have any novel uses?

Eggs--Not very adventurous here, beyond blanquette de veau, English baked puddings, and Hollandaise. Ideas?

Potato starch--open to ideas on this.

Nonfat dry milk--seems like it would work for something?


Potato flakes

Tomato paste--Is it just my imagination, or does it thicken beyond the obvious original pastiness?

Peanut butter--Now this definitely thinkings exponentially from its original pastiness.

Chickpea flour -- applications as a thickener?

Any others, and what do you do with them? I there any way to get the shiny gelatinous quality of a real demi-glace by using another ingredient?

I suspect there's a wealth of information to plunder here.

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  1. What about rice starch? How does it differ from corn starch, and when is it used?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Millicent

      Good question. I think it's the same as rice flour. Used in Asian desserts? Sort of thing I would buy and put in the cabinet for a decade or so.

    2. Arrowroot for soups and sauces

      1 Reply
      1. re: Alan408

        And, tapioca. Soups and desserts.

      2. Liver—think of giblet gravy.

        Ground nuts and seeds. Frequently used in Mexican cooking, and I’m sure elsewhere but nothing comes immediately to mind. West African, I’m pretty sure (besides peanuts).

        I think bread is used in every bread-baking cuisine.

        Leeks (think of soup). Okra, well cooked.

        Coconut cream.

        Gelatin in various forms (a calf’s foot in the stew).

        2 Replies
        1. re: Aromatherapy

          Oh, okra! Speaking of which, I read somewhere (maybe here on CH) that file powder is only a thickening agent (not a flavoring agent) and you use okra OR file but not both. Any gumbo experts out there?

          1. re: lucia

            Is there any other use for file powder?

        2. Interesting question. I think you could break down the ones you have mentioned into starchy or gelatinous.

          Flour is the thickening ingredient for basic sauces and gravies in homestyle american cooking as I learnt from my mother/joy of cooking school.
          Either browned in a roux or just blended first with liquid and then added.
          Cornstarch or Arrowroot for fruit pies, sauces, puddings, asian sauces.
          Both of these also act as a coating and thickening ingredient when used to coat meats before searing and braising.
          Potatoes in chowders, stews. And rice in these same uses.

          Gelatious: Gelatin, agar agar and xanthan gum. Okra.

          You mention mustard, which I think of as an emusifier. Also, I think the thickening effect of tomato paste is really reconstituting to tomato sauce, it is not a thickener in my mind.

          Some thickeners, eggs, peanuts, break easily, is it the protein? which restricts how much more cooking you can do after they have been added. And File should never be reheated too....

          And some dishes are thickened by more than one ingredient, ie pot roast, the gelatin from the bones, the starch from the browning flour, the potaoes or root vegies added...

          3 Replies
          1. re: ciaolette
            The new wireless snackish

            Dry mustard is indeed an emulsifier rather than a thickener. Which is why it, or the prepared form, is a must in keeping your vinaigrette from separating.

            1. re: The new wireless snackish

              I use the prepared Dijon as an emulsifier, but the dried stuff seems to act like cornstarch in water, thickening up when it cooks. Also, like cornstarch, I'm not sure it dissolves well enough to use in vinaigrette.

              1. re: lucia

                The dry powder works well for me, I always use a bit when making a balsamic/olive oil/shallots/ vinnegrette. But a disclaimer, powdered mustard seems to loose its flavor very quickly, and I tend to throw a bottle out before I have used it all.

          2. Lucia,

            You mention potato flakes. Here is an interesting technique I've used for almost twenty years as a replacement for roux.

            Lets say you're stewing down tomatoes with celery, onion, leek, carrot, etc...for a tomato soup, or even asparagus, onion, garlic, celery, leek, etc...for a cream of asparagus soup. Include peeled and rough cut russet potatoes with the vegetables when you add your stock. When you go to puree the soup base, the potato serves as a thickener rather than adding a starchy roux.

            And for yellow tomato sauce or soup, use some sweet potato, which will amplify the color, as well as thicken.

            Evil Ronnie