Surely it has happened to all of us that cooking a sauce, a stew or a puree has left us too liquid when the ideal in the recipe was a much denser texture. It is For this reason, thickeners are used in both home and industrial kitchens., products that added to our preparation and when they come into contact with the substances that compose it, make it much denser without modifying the final flavor too much, although sometimes this is not possible to achieve.
Thickeners in the kitchen, depending on the type, can be added during or after cooking the type of sauce, stew or cream that we want to make more dense. But let’s see what types of thickeners we can find at home, leaving aside all those used at an industrial level. For this we are going to divide them into two large groups, those from starches and those from proteins.
The first, that is those from starches, base their operation on the fact that when they come into contact with our hot liquid they transform, adding thickness to our ingredients. Mainly they would be all those that come from the family of cereals, rice, oats, corn, but also flour, potatoes, bread or couscous among others. And the Roux and the Beurre Manié or kneaded butter would also be included, which later we will see how it is used and works.
Within the second group we find thickeners of a protein natureThese would be mainly gelatins or egg yolk as the most used at home, leaving many other varieties for professional haute cuisine or industrial use.
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Wheat flour is used as a thickener in traditional sauces such as green sauce, Spanish sauce or seafood cream, but the truth is that it is used less and less on its own to give density to our dishes. However in kitchen wheat flour is widely used to thicken making a roux. This is a mixture of fat, usually butter, and flour, usually in equal parts or adding a slight increase in fat.
To make it, we heat the fat and add the flour at once, stirring a few minutes so that it cooks in the butter. Depending on how long the flour cooks We classify roux into three types, light, medium and dark.
In the light roux we would cook the flour for approximately two minutes and it would be used for bechameles and veloute sauce. Here you cook just enough so that later in the sauce the flour does not taste raw. In the medium roux, the flour cooked for about five minutes already takes a light golden tone, it would be used for sauces to which we want to add some color. On the other hand the dark roux, more used in dark sauces such as Spanish for meats, we would have to cook the flour for about seven minutes and ideally, before using it, we toast it a little in the oven so that it does not add a burnt flavor to our sauce.
In order to make a roux for bechamel the ideal proportion would be 80 grams of flour per liter of liquid, for the croquettes base roux about 140 grams per liter and for lighter but somewhat thick sauces, about 40 grams per liter of sauce.
The Beurre ManieIt is a mixture of flour and fat, also usually butter or margarine, of French origin and that serves as a quick thickener for hot sauces once they are almost finished. The flour is kneaded in an approximate proportion of 20% of the mixture with the butter until it forms a ball. From this ball we are adding pieces to our boiling sauce, so that another is not added until we see the previous one dissolved, finally letting the sauce cook for a few minutes. It provides a slight floury flavor as it is practically uncooked.
Very used in the kitchen to bind light sauces, is the famous cornstarch. For its correct use, the necessary amount must be dissolved in a small part of cold liquid to add it when our sauce or cream is boiling, then beating so that the corn flour cooks and gives us the desired consistency to our preparation. It leaves the creams and sauces translucent, which is why it is used a lot in baking. Currently there is already an express cornstarch that allows us to thicken practically without cooking and without making lumps.
Rice is a natural thickener that we can use in two different ways. If we use it whole We would use about 40 grams per liter of liquid to thicken, leaving it to cook for twenty minutes. Then we would pass it through a blender or a food processor and we would already obtain our densest sauce. But we can also use it in the form of flour, then we would use it like cornmeal. Rice is used to thicken mainly sauces and smooth creams such as seafood.
The humble potato is also an ally in our kitchen when it comes to being used as a thickener, in the form of starch, or in potato flakes dehydrated such as those used to make mashed potatoes, adding them to the boiling liquid and letting them rest. If we want to use it when naturalWe will add a whole potato or break it into pieces, letting it cook, then once its starch has been released, it could be removed or passed through the blender to give our stew or cream more consistency.
We can use bread as a thickener in two ways. First grated, always better at home to leave the thickness to our liking. It is mainly used to join and thicken solid ingredients such as ground meat for meatballs or hamburgers. We can also use the toasted bread to thicken farces and sauces or other traditional dishes such as salmorejo or gazpacho. If we want it for a cooked sauce we would have to add it during cooking and then crush it.
Other types of thickeners to use at home
Pectin: I had already told you about it, it is mainly used to thicken sweet preparations such as jams or jams.
Jellies: Gelatin actually comes from a protein called collagen that is abundant in meats for cooking or braising. Thus, when we cook or stew a meat and let it cool, the sauce already thickens by itself due to the action of this compound. As a thickener it is used mainly for juices and smoothies, although more than a thickening agent it is considered a gelling agent.
Yolk: We also use it in two ways, raw to thicken and amalgamate minced meat as in the case of meatballs, but it also thickens by acting as an emulsifier, that is, by linking two elements that by nature do not mix, water and oil, a typical example would be mayonnaise sauce. On the other hand, when cooked, it is very useful to thicken vinaigrettes, consommés or stews.
Kuzu: Of Asian origin, it is a climbing plant whose root provides a starch used as a thickener in sauces, purees and soups. It is used when cooking like cornstarch, it does not make many lumps and thanks to it we obtain a transparent and gelatinous mixture.
Agar agar: Gelatin of vegetable origin that also serves as a thickener, although it should not boil in the preparation that you want to thicken since its ability to give consistency is lost and we would have to wait for the sauce or cream to cool again to see it denser again .
Cream of milk or cream: It would be used by reducing the cream to the heat until finding the right point of thickness and adding it to the sauce or cream. Widely used in vegetable creams and pasta sauces.
Yet There are many types of thickeners that I could tell you about, but I think these are the most useful for our day-to-day cooking. I hope that this simple guide will help you to achieve simply and successfully, the exact point of thickness and consistency of your sauces, creams and soups.
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