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Nov 19, 2009 11:12 AM

Salt Stable Thickening

I'm looking for a little more cling to my buffalo wing sauce. I know xanthan (and probably other gums) are salt stable, but my sauce already has some xanthan and if I add more it gets too slimy. Starch will thicken the sauce temporarily, but I like to cook my wings with the sauce for a while and the starch just won't hold up. Gelatin, from what I understand, isn't salt stable either.

Any ideas?

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  1. What starch are you using? Without knowing, I suggest arrowroot, which is much more stable than cornstarch.
    A thicker sauce has better cling, as well.

    3 Replies
    1. re: bushwickgirl

      BTW, buffalo sauce is not inherently "clingy", it just coats gently, so you can have a fine time licking your fingers after.

      1. re: bushwickgirl

        Actually, buffalo sauce, prepared in the traditional manner by deep frying the wings and then tossing with sauce, usually maintains it emulsion long enough to cling pretty nicely.

        My recipe, though, involves cooking the wings a bit with the sauce. When I do that, the emulsion doesn't stand a chance, so I end up with something a little too runny.

      2. re: bushwickgirl

        I've tried all traditional starches- corn, flour, arrowroot- the salt breaks them down into nothing.

      3. I have a question, first. I *think* I know what "salt-stable" means but I'm not sure. I'd love it if the OP could define "salt stable" for me.

        I've never used Xanthan gum in cooking, nor have I used Carageenan. I can see how additives such as this will fuse the sauce to your wings for better, deeper flavor.

        Buffalo wing sauce is one of those peculiar fat/water combinations used in cooking that's *not* emulsified, so the fat and water in Buffalo sauce will pour like water because it's got no binder. The wings usually slosh around in this very thin liquid in a pan in the oven.

        This is an interesting conundrum. The first thing I thought about was to emulsify the sauce somehow, but the heat involved will break most emulsions. Hey, if the OP is savvy with Xanthan, perhaps he knows the ins and outs of using Lecithin, a common emulsifying agent. If the Lecithin can suspend the butter in the water-based components of the sauce, then the OP will have the thick sauce desired.

        1 Reply
        1. re: shaogo

          Shaogo, salt stable means that thickeners maintain their thickening ability in salty environments.

          The lecithin is an interesting idea. My gut feeling was that lecithin loses it's ability to emulsify at higher temperatures, but, after googling it a bit, I can't seem to find anything that seems to support that.

          Beyond a little more cling, I am looking for improved emulsification, so lecithin is tempting, but, I just can't go there again. I've had lecithin in my pantry at various times in recent years and it has been fun to play with, but... the sad reality is that no matter where/how I store, it oxidizes quickly- way too quickly.

          So, no lecithin for me, but, definitely, a nice idea.

        2. Thanks, scott123, for the lesson. In all my time in the food business, no chef nor teacher has ever discussed starches becoming unstable in salty situations.

          I'm sure you've seen some of the gloppy prepared "barbecue" and "Buffalo Wing" sauces out there. They manage to stay clingy and gloppy despite a poor cook's best efforts to burn the crap out of them. What's the trick they use? Chemicals?

          I've been brainstorming this conundrum, and can't think of any recommendation to add flavor other than to totally re-think the way you're doing Buffalo wings. At our restaurant we prepare chicken wings but fry them crispy. What makes them so popular is the seasoning amalgam we marinate the wings in before hand.

          It would seem to me that if you were to marinate the wings, then fry, then sauce, you'd get a more flavorful effect.

          My brainstorm also went to emulsification. When thinking of getting a way to get the butter and the "red stuff" -- the hot sauce and seasonings -- to emulsify, it occured to me that butterscotch is a sort of emulsion. I'm going to play around with a "spicy" "butterscotch" in the kitchen today. What I aim to come up with is a buttery, spicy (albeit somewhat sweet) glaze that uses sugar to stabilize, then put a burn on it in the oven. It might taste more like "barbecue" than "Buffalo" but I'm going to give it a try.

          1 Reply
          1. re: shaogo

            Shaogo, a very simple illustration of salt's effect on starch is refrigerating Chinese take out overnight. It's still delicious the next day, but the sauce will no longer be thick. The salt is drawing water out of the veggies, but it's also breaking down the starch.

            My gut feeling is that a lot of the prepared buffalo wing sauces use modified starch. I'm pretty sure you can modify starch in such a way that it becomes salt stable. I took a look at Franks buffalo wing sauce and they don't use starch, but they do use mono - di and triglycerides/polysorbate 60- emulsifiers, as well as paprika. Paprika is... interesting. I'm not sure if I want that much of a paprika flavor in my sauce, but the small particles would be salt stable and they would help the emulsion. Definitely something to consider.

            I haven't done a lot of experimenting with sugar in salty environments, but I have been adding a special type of corn syrup to my brown sauce base in hopes of minimizing water activity/spoilage, and, when prepared, the base is pretty thick, but, after a few days in the fridge, the thickness is gone. I'd like to test it more, but this seems to point to sugar not being stable in salty solutions either. The sweetness never fades, but the texture doesn't seem to last.

            It might just boil down to a matter of timing. I never serve day old wings. What we're talking about here is maybe 3 hours in a warm oven. Even though starch may not survive that journey, sugar might buy me a little more time. I have a special non sweet sugar that might be up to this task. Texturally, I'm not sure if sugar's what I'm looking for, but it might, in small amounts, be one of multiple thickening 'players.'

            Maybe something like:

            Xanthan, but not too much to be slimy
            Paprika, but not so much I can taste it
            Non sweet sugar (polydextrose), but not enough to be gooey

            Maybe :)