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Jan 17, 2009 03:33 PM

Why did chicken a la king thickened with arrowroot turn watery when reheated?

I never use a recipe for this dish - this time the sauce was made with one part canned evaporated milk to two parts Hood's Simply Smart milk, Better Than Bouillon chicken base, and arrowroot powder. This is my first time buying this kind of milk, which is advertised as 1% fat milk that tastes like whole (NOT!!!). The process which removes some of the liquid is called "ultrafiltration" but there's no further info as to what that entails. The milk is also ultra-pasteurized. The dish was cooked until just slightly thinner than I wanted it to be, since I expected it to thicken further as it cooled, which it did. I refigerated the leftovers in portions, over brown jasmine rice that I'd made myself, in tap water. Once reheated in the microwave, the sauce was as thin as if it had never been thickened at all. Other ingredients were fresh chicken breast, ghee, olive oil, frozen bell pepper, frozen peas, dried savory, black pepper, and Costco dried wild mushrooms rehydrated in water. Any theories as to what happened?

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  1. Both arrowroot starch and cornstarch break down when heated too high.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Thank you for that very important piece of knowledge!

      That explains why my Marsala Sauce (as it was reducing I realized that it was not going to be enough <requiring a heavy boil to reduce the mushroom juices> while evaluating the amount of cutlets that I had, but requiring a heavy boil), thickened with Arrowroot (and water, in a paste), broken to pieces -- nothing... (like water)--- when I threw in more Marsala and mushroom juices to increase the amount of sauce and then increased the heat drastically to reduce again. I swirled in a couple of pats of butter at the end, which improved the taste. Delicious sauce, but no texture or consistency!

      So what do you do if you reduce an (arrowroot or cornstarch-assisted) sauce and find that there isn't enough sauce? Should I have added more arrowroot/water mixture after the Marsala?

      Used top-shelf dried mushrooms along with two packs of baby bellas, and a fine "Drinking" Dry Marsala.

      The recipe did call for demiglace, which I skipped (couldn't get it in time, but it is SO on the way). Demiglace would certainly add more dimension to the dish, but that is not what disappointed. I always think of demiglace as more gel-like, not liquid-ey. I know the demiglace would intensify the flavours but the lack of (quantity and texture of) sauce; thick, fragrant gravy, was what was missed. Any help from anyone would be great. Thanks.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Thanks, Melanie! I didn't know that and would have suspected the specially-processed milk (I usually make the dish with half-and-half or blend milk and light cream).

        1. re: greygarious

          Where this comes up for me is Thanksgiving time for the turkey gravy. My mom has been aghast when I make a light roux to thicken it. I do still add some tapioca starch (or cornstarch) to give it a nice sheen. But because the gravy will be sitting on the back burner simmering until meal time, and then reheated in the microwave for many plates of leftovers, it needs the stable thickening of flour. Making it a day in advance of T-day has advantages in that you have the time to pay attention to making a proper light brown roux and not risk the raw floury taste. Then I adjust with tapioca starch as needed to thicken it a little more and add gloss.

      2. Chicken a la King, Chicken Pot Pie etc should really never be made with cornstarch. The binding sauce should be a Bechamel. I usually make mine with Chicken Stock, making it technically a Velouie Sauce, I add a few TBS of Creme Fraiche or Heavy Cream before putting it all together.

        Made with a White Sauce, it can be reheated, even frozen, and it never separates.

        BTW It is great to know that C a la King is still being made, and making a comeback. One of the all time great American dishes!

        1. PS:

          In most recipes that call for milk, it is always better to use whole milk. The amount of calories is not significant, and it tastes better and holds upo better.

          No need to use any milk for your Sauce. These dishes were always made with a Veloute Sauce . I use the Chicken Stock in a box, poured into a flour and buttrer roux, lightly cooked, not browned or colored.

          1. According to Shirley Corriher in "CookWise" arrowroot is a low amylose starch (around 20% cf to 26 for flour), though not as low as cornstarch. This type of startch tends to be
            - transparent
            - thickens at relatively low temperature, may thin if overheated
            - thins when reheated
            - freezes and thaws well.
            - may thin if stirred vigorously after gelling

            3 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              So if the sauce "breaks" and becomes watery due to overheating, can it be cooled, and more arrowroot/water combo added to thicken it up again? Or will that result in a pasty flavour? Or not work at all?

              1. re: ideabaker

                White flour has a raw uncooked flavor if it hasn't been cooked as part of roux or for some time in the sauce. Other starches like arrowroot don't need that cooking time. The sauce is good to use once it has thickened.

                1. re: paulj

                  Thanks for that, Paulj, so if this happens to me again, I will simply make more arrowroot paste and add to the watery sauce at a lower temp to thicken...