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Gluten-free roux? [moved from General Topics]

I am making a chowder that requires a standard roux. Will a roux made with gluten-free flour hold up to the heat and the milk in the chowder? I have some xantham gum, if that might help, but am unsure how to use it in this situation.

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  1. gluten free flours don't work in roux-- the characteristics of gluten are what makes roux work in the first place. you should explore other recipes or other means of thickening your existing chowder recipe rather than w roux, and there are likely to be textural and taste tradeoffs w this route. for starters i would try thickening w finely mashed potatoes or other starchy veg-- this way you won't end up with the dangerous and dreaded "gluten-free stabilizer mouthfeel" or "tastes like chop suey sauce" effects. another option is simply to omit the roux step and eat a thinner chowder.

    1. i participated in a thread where several posters were adamant that New England chowder should not be thickened with a roux. The only thickening should come from the potatoes. They viewed the typical 'library paste' chowder that many restaurants serve as a abomination, or at least something that should not be called 'New England'. I think the sentiment is stronger in Maine than Boston.

      Apparently the oldest chowders where thickened with bread or crackers.

      But if you want something thicker, there are several non-flour starches that would work. Potato starch, or even instant mashed potatoes would stay with the potato theme.

      Cornstarch is a standard thickener for milk based puddings, so should work in a chowder. Arrowroot is not recommended for milk sauces (makes it slimy or something like that).

      3 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          I am among the anti-roux crowd. Roux and starch thickeners really developed to help keep a chowder over heat without having the milk curdle; it's a bandaid for mediocrity, but one that most professional cooks - who are preparing foods for institutions where it's not economical to make fresh batches of chowder over the course of an evening - have popularized as standard. A fine chowder should only have potatoes and pilot crackers or the like providing thickness.

          1. I've been extremely happy with the roux I've made with brown rice flour--I think that a roux is much more flexible than baked products when it comes to gluten-free substitions, so don't sweat it. As long as your flour isn't too strongly-flavored (like buckwheat) or grainy (like some rice flour), it should be fine. Xanthan gum would be too much trouble for a roux.

            1. Real chowders do not need a roux. If you want it thick, grate a potato into it and use that as a thickener. Please, no flour of any kind.

              4 Replies
              1. re: escondido123

                This is sort of poster I warned about. :)

                Just curious, what family tradition are you working from? Another poster who is adamant about no-thickener bases his claim on the practice of Maine lobstermen, whose kids he'd taught.

                1. re: paulj

                  Fourth generation New Englanders and lived in Providence for 25 years. The only time you would see a chowder served "thick enough to stand a spoon in" was when it was for tourists. Sorry, got to keep the standards somewhere. ;) (I would venture the bread/crackers in chowder were for bulk not thickening--it had to be stick to your ribs on not much money.)

                  1. re: escondido123

                    Actually, staled breads (hard tack being an extreme form of this) and soups are fraternal twins, culinarily speaking. Sop. Soup. Sop. Soup.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      Newfoundland has fish and brewis, a cod stew using hardbread that has been softened in water. Hardbread is a brick hard form of hardtack.

                      From a recent Baron Ambrosia show on Cooking Channel I learned about a Portuguese 'dry soup', a seafood soup using enough bread to form a stew.
                      Acorda de mariscos

                      In any case, for the OP, potatoes are perfectly good starch for chowder, even if they are a 19th c innovation.

                      Using Google books ngram viewer I found some 19th c recipes for chowder

                      1857 Mrs Hale's version - with just hard biscuit or crackers
                      1836 The Virginia Housewife, with crackers, and thickened with a bit of flour and butter at the end
                      1837 - with potatoes and crackers
                      Of course cookbooks, even if hand written, don't reflect the practice of people who pass down their recipes by word of mouth.

              2. I think the answer you've been getting basically boils down (haha) to the suggestion to use potato starch. If for some reason you didn't want to add potatoes to your chowder, at least you know that potato starch works as a compatible thickener for your chowder if the recipes typically call for potatoes. Most stews and chowders have a thickening agent that is a starch that is integral to the recipe. Clam chowder has potatoes, corn chowder has corn starch.

                If you're making a corn chowder, then obviously some corn starch or some corn grits (if you're planning on cooking the chowder at least a half hour more) would be a more compatible starch.

                1. Gluten-free flour has a weird texture b/c it's been developed to make baked goods that have a texture as similar as possible to standard yeast-raised baked goods. That's also why it sometimes contains gum(s). Clearly that's not the result you're going for in chowder, so there's no advantage to using gluten-free baking mix or gums.

                  Gluten plays little or no part in roux--it's the starch, not the gluten, which does the thickening. Plain starch, whatever the source, is gluten-free. I agree w/ the consensus that potatoes are a nicer thickener for clam chowder than starch paste anyhow, so the solution is easy--find a more authentic recipe that doesn't call for roux . If you miss the butterfat taste of roux in a New England clam chowder, you can restore it by including cream or half & half in the liquid portion.

                  Most classic corn chowder recipes call for creamed corn, but canned is no longer made traditionally, may include wheat flour (read the label carefully), and is always too sweet. Creamed corn was originally thickened by coarsely chopping some of the fresh corn to release its starch. Here is a recipe using the food processor to get the same result: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/cr... The old-fashioned recipes for corn chowder also call for fatty bacon and diced potatoes. The recipe usually goes like this: render bacon in a heavy-bottomed pot, remove meat and put aside, sautee diced potatoes in the fat until they are cooked, add creamed corn, whole corn, and milk, heat through & season w/ salt & pepper to taste. Serve garnished w/ the chopped crisp bacon meat. Voila! No gluten.

                  1. awesome! the bbq police got nothin on the chowdah police! erm, so--the question was not about the permutations of parochial new england chowders and which one is the ultimate "authentic" item, and all others are phonies: "my yankee hearth cookin' grandmaw can beat up your yankee hearth cookin' grandmaw" ;-P---- the question was regarding gluten-free alternative flours in roux. one person said something potentially helpful in that regard wrt brown rice flour (ymmv, and i've tried it and would disagree that brown rice flour works *well*-- though it works better than any other gluten-free alternative flour, and it doesn't suffer from the taste or mouthfeel fails that other GF flours developed for baked goods are prone to).

                    a couple of thoughts... the op never mentioned what type of chowder s/he is attempting to cook from a recipe, yet everyone seems to think they know what kind of chowder it must be and wants to slam the op for not cooking an "authentic" dish with potato-only thickener (presumably the chowder passed down from their own yankee hearth cookin' grandmaw LOL). assuming s/he is going for an "authentic" anything, which wouldn't seem to be the case, considering xanthan gum was on the table. if the op is cooking a specific recipe, using a roux may be perfectly acceptable, but the easiest way to make a *good* chowder recipe gluten free would be to omit the component containing wheat flour (whether that is a roux or a pilot cracker) and simply to build a better chowder without these elements. i think it's possible to have a discussion about chowder, soup, and other related subjects without calling the op names or making her/him sorry for ever asking what s/he so innocently thought was a simple question.

                    speaking of chowder, which of course originally and authentically did not contain any potatoes whatsoever, and was thickened by pilot crackers or ship biscuit or hardtack... 50 chowders, by jasper white, and down east chowder, by john thorne are good reference works. of course they talk about the original, layered, "built" chowders, as well as god-awful bastardizations like shaker bean chowders and farmhouse chowders which don't contain clams, fish, or any other seafood, like chicken-salt pork chowder and corn chowder, which claim to have deep roots and be "authentic" in their own right! cover the children's eyes! ...but it is interesting, for some folks, to look at the evolution of chowders and how the authentic layered, dairy-free, potato-free chowders made w salt pork became the modern chowders of today, and look at the possible regional variations. ymmv, and again, the op may just want to make a decent soup without the confab.

                    i do want to take issue with two assertions put forth in the thread. #1) that the use of a roux is the sign of an incompetent of indifferent cook. well, no, actually-- i'd say it's a sign that the cook knows one extremely useful french cooking technique. if every french and creole chef is incompetent, indifferent, and a poor cook. . . yeah. that doesn't really compute. i can understand if some yankee cooks are anti-french and want to deny any french or french territorial influence on new england culture and its symbols, but come out and say that, because that is another, and more interesting and problematic exploration, rather than just saying all french cooks and french cooking (and that of new orleans, etc) suck because these cuisines use roux.

                    side note-- roux is not actually used to keep "milk" from curdling, as asserted in the same post. roux *may* be used in some recipes to cover mediocrity-- not of the cook, but of the ingredients. big difference. suffice to say, the quality of dairy has declined in many regions and the cream or-- did i read that right? "milk" is not up to the standard enjoyed by the folks who made these historical chowders we are all trying to do justice to. purely in my own opinion, modern homogenized "milk" shouldn't be used in chowder. if the cook has access to a *decent*, non-homogenized, small dairy or farmstead whole cream, the chowder will be considerably improved in every way-- flavor, texture/thickness. the chowder will also never curdle or separate, ever. however if all you have to work with is "milk" and not a decent cream, i think that attempting to add some of the butterfat back into the texture of the soup, through the use of a roux, actually makes perfect sense and would more closely replicate the fresh, non-homogenized cream-top milks that earlier new england cooks had access to when they built their chowders. perhaps it's possible some folks are coming to the problem of how roux made it into some chowder recipes in a backward way?

                    the #2 assertion i would attempt to refute is that a "classic" corn chowder recipe would contain canned creamed corn. good corn chowder starts with cutting the kernels off the cobs and making a corn stock with the cobs. all of the elements of a corn chowder will be in season at the same time on the same farm, getting an out-of season factory product would seem to run counter to the spirit of a good farmhouse chowder such as a corn chowder or pheasant chowder. again i think the canned cream of corn would come about when the real deal is out of season or unavailable in the area as a reasonable, though non-ideal substitute-- just as bacon is probably a good substitute for the salt pork that probably was the foundation of the original (or earlier, or "authentic"-- problematic word, "authentic") recipe.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: soupkitten

                      Whoa! By my reading, people were expressing dislike for roux thickened, milk-based chowders, not trying to out-authentic anyone. "Authentic" in this context meant for many years prior to the latest practice of using roux. You are absolutely right that New Englanders were eating chowder before potatoes were in general usage. You also misread my post. When I said that old-fashioned corn chowder recipes call for creamed corn, I was thinking of corn "creamed" on the spot, not canned. My reference to canned was regarding the creamed corn most commonly used at present, and was to warn about the possible inclusion of wheat flour and excessive sweetness.

                      But most importantly, I believe your indignation stems from misunderstanding the intentions of the posters, and perhaps, the OP. As I and apparently most posters read it, we'd have to disagree w/ your assertion that "the question was regarding gluten-free alternative flours in roux". What we saw was an appeal for a way to make delicious chowder w/o gluten, which is difficult when including roux--gluten free flour mixes weren't made for it, so potato starch roux?--but dead simple using a recipe thickened w/ potatoes. THAT was why replies introduced the idea that potato-based chowders taste better and are more traditional anyhow--to offer the best help they knew. How you got from there to the idea that they were somehow "slamming" the questioner, I can't fathom.

                      BTW, I don't see in your long, and quite interesting and informative post, an attempt at solving the OPer's dilemma. What do you suggest she do?

                      1. re: Stein the Fine

                        if you look to the top of the thread, the first response to the op was mine, and my suggestions are there. it's a much shorter post.

                        apologies if i read your notes on canned corn incorrectly. i have reread that part of your post and i think it can be read a few different ways. perhaps what is confusing me is that i've looked at a lot of recipes but haven't seen "creamed corn" as a separate step/ingredient in making any scratch soup-- the soup just calls for corn, right? am i missing something? but cans of creamed corn are called for in. . . convenience foods/sandra lee/church basement lady- type recipes. which i tend not to care for or endorse. again i apologize if you were not talking about this type of recipe, and i missed the direction of your post.

                      2. re: soupkitten

                        Points taken. I should have explained the background for my tangential rant, which is deliberately provocative and unbalanced: as I've noted in prior chowder threads (at least some of them, when I am in a mood to do so), I am merely trying to keep alive the tradition of the thinner chowder, and discourage the tourist expectation that thick chowder is the benchmark. Thick chowders are well represented everywhere; some are good, most are not particularly so (I have a particular loathing for the chowder at the Lobster Pot in P-town, which at least in years past was so thick you could form soft peaks, and the staff was proud of it....). Thin chowders are harder to find with the passing years. I am sticking up for the little guy, as it were. And still will rant so.

                        1. re: Karl S

                          the thing is, i believe i'd be right there with you on the library paste chowders. bad soup pisses me off. and i'm a huge regionalist and think that hyper-local foodways are endlessly interesting and currently very threatened. i am on the side of the little guy as well-- hell, i *am* the little guy! now, it does disturb me that folks in this thread read the word "chowder" and concluded that the op was making a dairy and potato dish featuring clams. . . the real irony may be that chowder, before anyone had even thought to add clams or other seafood to the salt pork, originated in order to make hardtack and ship's biscuit palatable, and the original chowder probably was a pretty wheaty, pasty mess. a (lightly, judiciously) roux-thickened chowder, with potatoes, when they were first introduced, would probably be quite refined and palatable by comparison. not long after, we've reached a point in the evolution of chowder where neither a layer of hardtack, nor a roux is necessary at all. . . yet, if the cook has french background or training s/he may use a roux, and it isn't any reflection on that person's self-worth or the worthiness of that person's recipe. i once had a very nice elk chowder made by a cook of french-canadian ancestry, she threw it into a wood burning stove for part of the cooking process. very little dairy in the thing, but she did use a roux and name it a chowder, it featured pork belly and potatoes also. i suppose someone will chime in now to say that if it isn't clams plus milk plus potatoes than it isn't chowder, argh. --- sorry, my point was that i don't believe that roux is necessarily the enemy to good chowder, and it probably affects the texture of a cooked soup/dish less (again when judiciously used) than the original heavy layering of whole large pieces of bread/biscuit/hardtack. eh. it's at least debatable. at any rate i suspect we agree more than we disagree, and if i do disagree on some points, it doesn't mean i don't enjoy the rant otherwise. :)