Interesting thickening agents
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?
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.
Liverthink of giblet gravy.
Ground nuts and seeds. Frequently used in Mexican cooking, and Im sure elsewhere but nothing comes immediately to mind. West African, Im pretty sure (besides peanuts).
I think bread is used in every bread-baking cuisine.
Leeks (think of soup). Okra, well cooked.
Gelatin in various forms (a calfs foot in the stew).
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...
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.