The Best Thickeners for Cooking at Home


Pot of Gumbo Cooking

There are a number of cooking techniques that are useful to know in order to get the most flavor and best texture out of a dish.  Thickeners include a list of ingredients and a host of potential techniques, each with their specific purpose. Soups, stews, sauces, and braised dishes all can benefit from thickening agents in order to give them a richer texture and mouth feel.  Flour, corn starch, arrowroot, breadcrumbs, cheese, butter, eggs, and cream all make good thickeners when used one way or another.  A variety of techniques can be used for some of these, and the results vary.

A slurry of flour, corn starch, or arrowroot powder with cold water, whisked until there are no lumps, makes the most basic thickening technique.  This is known as a “white wash”. Corn starch and arrowroot require half the amount that flour does for the same amount of thickening.  They are whisked into the preparation.  It takes about 2oz of cornstarch or arrowroot powder to 1 quart of soup or sauce, twice that of flour.

Beurre manie, roux, and farine all combine fat and flour, coating each granule of flour so that it doesn't clump in the stock or sauce.  Beurre manie involves mixing butter and flour into a paste and adding that to the nearly finished sauce.  A roux is flour cooked in fat until it is bubbly, and is sometimes caramelized as well.  Left white, it is the base for bechamel.  Browned like a copper penny, it is the base for a gumbo.  Farine is a technique of dredging the meat of a dish in flour and sauteing it.  This also coats the flour with fat before adding the liquid of the dish.  All of these techniques require cooking time sufficient to cook the flour before serving.

Bread with the crusts cut off can be toasted, and crushed, and this can be added to soups and stews as a thickener as well. The only carbohydrate friendly option among the top thickeners is known as liaison.  It uses egg yolks and cream as a fortifier and thickener.  This is a more difficult technique to master, as the eggs and cream tend to curdle if the technique is not done correctly.

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