HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


How Can I Thicken a Beef Stew Without Wheat Flour?

  • n

I am making beef bourguignon and can not use flour but I want to thicken the sauce. I've read that either potato starch or sweet rice flour can be used. Which one is the best and what cautions should be used?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. re: coll

      Cornstarch will give you that "Chinese restaurant" sort of gelatinous glisten to a sauce. I would go with potato starch which is a flavor that will work better with bourguignon .

      1. re: CarrieWas218

        Potato Starch, agreed. Unless one doesn't mind that gelatinous glisten in their beef stew...;)

        Beef Bourguignon is another matter, and generally uses much less flour, just a tablespoon per lb of beef, to create a small amount of thickening with tomato paste and the fond, after removing the browned meat cubes You can skip the flour in this step and just reduce the sauce.

    2. I don't think it would glisten if you added some mashed potato.

      1. like everyone said, cornstarch, potato starch...etc.

          1. re: MandalayVA

            bingo, this is what you want, it comes recommended by none other than Alton Brown

            1. re: tobinsmith

              just be sure to use a VERY light hand with xanthan or guar. powerful stuff, and too much will yield slimy or gummy results.

              i've personally found that rice flour is a good stand-in for wheat.

          2. I've never used flour to thicken my beef bourguignon. After the initial cooking is done, I just remove the lid and reduce to a low simmer until the sauce has reduced to the consistency I like.

            6 Replies
            1. re: monkeyrotica

              I do the same though I usually have some bits of carrot and onion in the sauce that can be mashed/immersion blended to make it thicker too.

              1. re: escondido123

                Mashed carrots are my fave thickener for stew and chili. Adds a nice sweetness and ups the nutritional value.

                1. re: sherriberry

                  I found an old English stew recipe in Dorothy Hartley's "Food in England." Basically you use a box grater to grate the vegetables (potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onion) and place the "nest" of grated vegetables in a crock pot or covered casserole. Place the browned meat on top, cover and slow roast for hours with little or no cooking liquid (the liquid comes from the vegetables and the meat). The grated vegetables basically disintegrate and form part of the "gravy." Jacques Pepin uses a similar technique in an "instant" soup recipe that his mother used when he was growing up during the war when they were always short on food. He'd heat some plain soup stock to a boil then add grated vegetables (whatever they had handy or was about to spoil). I've used this grated vegetable technique with much success to thicken stews and soups without having to use flour or a roux. Much appreciated by folks who have a gluten intolerance.

                2. re: escondido123

                  I also puree the veggies. I never use a thickener. Since the veggies (typically onions, celery and carrots) are generally VERY cooked by the time the stew is finished, I remove the meat and bay leaves, then puree the veggies with the gravy using my immersion blender. It makes for a very tasty gravy with lots of body.

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    I do, too, after reducing with the lid open a bit.

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      I do this also. When available I use celeriac instead of celery as it gives the sauce a nice silkiness

                  1. re: justicenow

                    This is the way to go IMO. It works great on jobs like this.

                    1. re: twyst

                      I make sure to whisk the instant potatoes into the stew so that it doesn't lump up. This works well for thickening other soups like chicken or seafood chowders.

                  2. There were a few "quick beef stew" recipes from Cook's Illustrated that have used gelatin to thicken and add body. I've tried them and was surprised how well it worked. You could give that a try too I would imagine.

                    1. You could use tapioca flour or rice flour as well as most of the other suggestions. You could use arrowroot too but it gives a sheen that isn't quite natural.

                      1. I like rice flour as my alternate to wheat flour and cornstarch. I use a slurry of it towards the end of cooking. It takes a little bit longer to cook out than cornstarch (but not as long as wheat flour). I'm not sure of ratios, as I usually just eyeball it.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Sooeygun

                          Should I use sweet rice flour or regular rice flour? Does it matter?

                          1. re: nance

                            I;m really not sure. I buy it in bulk and it's just called 'rice flour'.


                            From this article it seems sweet rice flour has stronger thickening ability.

                        2. If you're okay with corn, just use some cornstarch added at the last minute. It thickens things up beautifully. I don't know about using alternative starches... I always use a little cornstarch in my cooking to thicken it - it's only gelatinous if you use too much.

                          1. How about tomato paste?

                              1. I don't think I saw arrowroot recommended yet.

                                1. If you don't mind changing the look of the dish, you can also just pull out a few potatoes, puree them, and put them back in.

                                  1. I just use tomato paste. Never bother to flour the beef before browning.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: monavano

                                      Remove some of the veg and most of the liquid, puree it and strain it. You can treat this liquid as the divine stuff that it is and season it to taste with s/p and finish it with butter.

                                      Or you can just let your stew cook down, uncovered until it thickens a bit and, again, finish it with butter, which will give it a nice (not Chinese restaurant) glisten and silky texture. Be sure to use cold butter about a Tsp at a time and whisk while adding it.

                                    2. Years ago I found "wash day oven beef stew" recipe in a cookbook I borrowed from the library. It was a method of cooking beef stew when the stove top had to be dedicated to heating water for the laundry. Basically, after the browned meat, onions and carrots are placed in a deep casserole dish, add water. Then sprinkle the top with about two tablespoons of oatmeal. Cover and bake at 350 F for about 4 hours. It just makes its own gravy. Don't add potatos until the last hour of cooking.

                                      1. Like a previous poster mentioned, I've had good results with my favorite pork stew using tapioca flour. So much so, that I plan to use it in all my stew recipes from now on.

                                        1. We eat low carb and I use both coconut flour and almond flour for thickeners, and for breadings too.

                                          1. I use barley. Thickens the stew and add some nice texture too.

                                            1. Sweet rice flour is more gluey, and is ground more finely than regular rice flour -- at least in my experience. You'd still want to make a slurry before whisking it into the unthickened gravy, lest you get lumps. It isn't sweet per se, like you wouldn't be dumping sugar into your dish or anything.

                                              If the dish isn't already made, you can use either of these flours (or cornstarch) to coat the beef before browning. I like browning meat straight on the pan, but many people include the flouring step so that the liquid stays relatively thick throughout the cooking process.

                                              Hope your dinner works/worked out!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: megjp

                                                Nance - you have a lot of great recommendations here - many that add nutrition as well as great flavor :) Personally, if using starch or flour, I prefer potato or tapioca - not too fond of cornstarch any more, and I have yet to try the rice flour but think it's a great idea, too. (I also like the coconut or almond flour recommendation - they add a nice, unexpected flavor.) The one thing you want to remember when using any thickener is (forgive me if someone already mentioned this, I don't recall reading it) to mix it with cold water or milk prior to adding to your other ingredients / gravy / sauce. You will avoid lumps by doing so, and then stirring the mixture in slowly with a whisk.

                                                The ground / grated veggies add a great flavor, too, but many people don't like the texture or the look of those vegetables; I don't mind...

                                                Here's a tip for those times when you don't need a "quick fix" thickener - whenever I make chicken, lamb, pork, or beef with the bone in, I save the bones to make bone broth as a natural thickener (bones are what make glue and gelatin.) Sometimes I will remove the bones before cooking my meat / poultry and freeze (this is especially effective when bones are small or on a small portion of meat, as you can add to the package of frozen bones until you get enough to make a good broth), sometimes, as with roasted chicken, I remove the meat from the bones after roasting for an extra special tasty treat. Whatever method I choose initially, what I do with the bones is always the same... Put the bones and any other solids such as (grissle, fat, skin) in a slow cooker (or dutch oven of some type) and cover with water. If slow cooker, set on high and let the bones boil for as long as you like; I've actually boiled mine (adding water as necessary) for 3 days in the slow cooker (I will turn it down to low or even warm if I leave the house.) When you think it's cooked long enough (I cook mine until the bones literally fall apart or can be cut with a good scissors or meat cutter because I want the marrow in my broth), remove the bones and other solids, refrigerate or freeze (in pints or quarts - if freezing, I refrigerate first so that fat rises to the top and I can discard it), dependent on how quickly you will use the broth, and viola!, you have instant thickener that's loaded with flavor.

                                                I too, hope your dinner worked out well for you. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about the bone broth tip. I try my best to use everything I can use rather than discarding, so have many processes such as this for many foods (citrus fruits, etc.)

                                                Susan Morgan