There is just nothing better than knowing just the right ingredient in the kitchen to throw in your dish and adapt it from something edible to something delicious, is there? I love when everything comes together in a recipe — from the taste to the color to the texture. Last week, we explored soups and stews, but whether it be a soup, a sauce, a pie, or any other food you might need to thicken, this week, we thought we’d explore all the different ways to give your food a nice, full texture.
So check out below for a guide to the many different thickeners you can throw in your dish, depending on what you’re preparing and what you have on hand. When you’re thickening, make sure to use a whisk and drizzle in slowly, while stirring rapidly to thoroughly mix your starch through. Always mix your liquid into your starch, rather than vice versa. You’ll most usually get best results if you disperse into a hot mixture, if possible in your recipe.
- Flour – Possibly the most popular thickener, often called a roux when mixed with butter or other fat. Use flour to thicken your gravy, sauces, soups or stews. The color and flavor will depend on how long you cook your mixture. You want your flour roux to be as smooth as possible, so you can often boil your mixture until it’s reached your desired consistency. Your granny might have also called this a slurry, which is a mixture of flour and cold water. While no pre-cooking is needed, you’ll want to make sure that after your “slurry” is stirred into the mix, it’s cooked for at least 5 minutes more, to diminish the flour flavor, so plan accordingly with cooking times.
- Cornstarch – Another popular thickener, use cornstarch when you need a strong thickener. Combine first with a little liquid (try broth or wine for a variation on water) and stir to make a paste. Adding cornstarch dry will cause your sauce to be lumpy.
- Arrowroot – Similar to cornstarch, arrowroot (or arrowroot flour) is about 1 1/2 times more powerful than plain flour. Mix with a cold liquid first to make your paste before stirring into your hot mix. Arrowroot has many similar properties to cornstarch, but you’ll avoid any chalky flavor for unheated foods. Be careful not to overstir your arrowroot into the mixture. It’s a fine powder and can become thin again.
- Potatoes – I love potatoes for thickening. So simple, and we almost always have them around. A little potato puree can be prepared easily by cutting into your potato into quarters and placing in a bowl withjust a drizzle of water. Cover with a paper towel and microwave for about 5 minutes. Then simply peel off the skin and mash up with a fork. Or freeze any leftover mashed potato to stir into your gravy next time. (In a pinch, instant mashed potatoes will work. Add just a tablespoon or two at a time.)
- Cooked rice – This can be pureed with a little of the broth or other liquid to add back into your mixture.
- Vegetable puree – A great way to thicken your soup and add a little veggie goodness as well. Simply cook more vegetables than you’ll need and remove from your soup to puree them in a blender. Stir them back in for a harmony of flavors, as well as a low-calorie and nutritious thickener. (Tip: Save small portions of any leftover veggies from dinner for this purpose.)
- Bread – Cut off your crusts and crumble the bread, just a little at a time into the liquid to be thickened. Start with only about a quarter of a cup and add more as necessary. White bread works well with about anything, but try rye or wheat to add heartiness to a stew or soup.
- Oatmeal – Use quick-cooking oatmeal, or stir in some left-over oatmeal in the same way you would bread.
- Eggs – Typically used in custard, eggs can also be used to thicken sauce or soup. Cut the cholesterol by just using the whites, or you can use whole eggs, or even just the yolks, depending on what you have on hand. Just be careful to heat them slowly, as you don’t want to cook the eggs. Lightly beat the eggs first and then stir in quickly to your mix. Stir over low heat until the mixture is thickened.
- Tapioca – Great for thickening fruit fillings, glazes, or sauces because you won’t need to stir and tapioca can also stand up to long cooking times.