How To use Thickeners
Ever had to deal with extremely watery gravy or sauce at home or a mousse that just refused to set? In the initial days as a novice in the kitchen, I didn’t even know what thickeners were and how to use thickeners! But today, I know that thickeners are a necessity in the kitchen. There are a number of thickeners you can use and the texture and taste changes from one to the other.
Cornstarch is one of the most popular thickeners used in thickening soups, stews, sauces and gravies. Mix a tablespoon of cornstarch in ¼ cup of cool water and then add this mixture to the hot stew or sauce, while stirring constantly.
Bring the mixture to boil so that the flavour of the cornstarch vanishes. In case the liquid becomes too thick add a little water. You can also use milk or even tomato juice depending on what the base of your liquid is. Use one tablespoon of cornstarch for each cup of liquid. For sauces use a little less.
Flour can also be used in place of corn starch in recipes. The major problem with using flour is that it almost inevitably forms lumps when added to a liquid. To avoid this, ensure that you stir well and persistently. When making a sweet sauce, try and mix the flour with the sugar before adding it to the liquid and you can even add an egg or two. When making a gravy or savoury sauce, add the flour to the melted butter or drippings in a pan, stir well to remove the raw flavour of flour, and then slowly add the milk or broth as required.
A healthy thickener arrow root can be added directly to the liquid or after being mixed with cool water. It gives a very smooth and almost translucent texture to soups and sauces. Don’t stir it in too much as it may become stringy. Don’t get worried if you notice that the liquid starts to gel when cool. Reheat the liquid to return it to its normal state. You can use arrowroot to thicken sauces, puddings, and fillings.
Tapioca or cassava is a perfect thickener for your sweet desserts as not only does it not allow gelling of the sweet on cooling but it also prevents the food from going stale. It is mashed and then added to the liquid.
It is the perfect thickener to use when the recipe demands for high temperature cooking. It is a strong thickening agent that is perfect to make jellies and vegetarian deserts and can be added directly to the food.
Gelatin is a natural food thickener made from cows and pigs fat that used a lot in fruit-flavoured deserts including ice creams. To use gelatin first, soften the gelatin powder or sheet in a cool liquid and once the gelatin has absorbed all the liquid, gently heat it. Do this by either adding it to the hot liquid mixture or by gently heating the gelatin over simmering water.
Eggs can be used in foods like custards, ice creams and cooked fillings. To use the egg, first mix a little hot water into it and then stir it into the hot liquid.
Mashed potatoes; instant or homemade, when added directly, can be used to thicken soup and gravies. For vegetable soups, you can use some vegetable puree or even cream as thickeners.
Flour, Arrowroot powder, potato starch or rice starch may be substituted in equal amounts to cornstarch.
Never mix cornstarch with warm water instead of cold water as it can lead to the formation of lumps.
Boiling gelatin reduces its gelling property.