Thickeners

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Chief Longwind Of The North

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Thickeners, those starches, cums, fats and creams that give creamy mouthfeel, and body to sauces, puddings, ice creams, smoothies, and so many other good foods. They can be any number of starches, fruit meats, veggies, grains, gums, and'/or dairy. Let's explore this vast world. I'll start with veggies.

Most people don't think of vegetables as thickening agents. But here are a few that you might want to consider.

1. Winter squashes - These include Hubbard, butternut, acorn, pumpkin, turban, banana, buttercup, butternut, delicata, Kabocha, sspaghetti, and sweet dumpling, There are others; but these are the important vsrieties. When cooked, mashed, and drained, they are creamy and silky smooth. The flavor is slightly sweet and nutty. The only one of these that I wouldn't use a a thickener is spaghetti squash. If you have any reserves about using these veggies, think of the thickness of a good pupkin or squash soup, or even pumpkin pie, though the egg deffinitely helps thicken the custard threre.

2. Cauliflower - Not many think of cauliflower asa thickener either. After steaming until tender, put this veggie into the blender and puree. The result is a creamy, mild flavored sauce that will go well with so many other foods. It easily accepts seasonings such as thyme, sage, summer savory, salt and pepper, Old Bay, paprika, and others. It can be used to make gravies, or sauces.

3. Cr rots and Parsnips - Steam, roast, microwave, or boil until tender. These naturally sweet veggies can be blended into everything from smoothies, to soups and stew to add rich flavor, and a slightly sweet balance. Ive even used carrot in place of pumpkin in pies ,with excellent results.

4. Potatoes - Potatoes have a mild flavor and are great for adding body to legume soups, such as split pea, bean, and lentil soup. You almost can[t tell they are in the soup. Mashed potatoes can be added to bread and pastry dough to give a silky soft, melt in your mouth texture /

5. Onion - When used properly onion can be blended into soups, stews, chowders, and sauces to add body and flavor. Due to its pronounced flavor, it must be used carefully so as not to overpower other flavors. Also, cooked onion texture can be off-outing to some. To use as a thickener, it should be cooked until soft, pureed, then added to sauces and gravies.

6. Tomato - This fruit is a great thicken that goes so very wall with other ingredients. Meaty pear shaped tomatoes, such as Roma, or San Marsano tomatoes should be used to add body to various sauces from Espangole, to Sauce Tomate, to Bolognaise, to ragu. Tomato can be added to ground beef to make Sloppy Joes, or dooked with basil and onion to make a wonderful toato-basil soup. It can be added to beef stock to make brown sauce, or as an ingredient in Deme Glace,

7. Legumes - This group includes all beans, pulses, peas, and lentils. They are very high in proteins and nutrients, and add a thick and creamy viscosity to foods. Many of the bean families are similar in flavor, and can be interchanged. Others, have a unique flavor all there own, and are best suited to particular recipes. To give you a couple examples of how to use legumes as a thickener, think refried beans, Is that thick enough for you? Ok, not think bean pie. What! Bean Pie! That just sounds wrong. any years ago, a lady sailor who worked in the same shop that I did (when I was a sailoor) brought in a pie that looked and tasted like a good pumpkin pie. The texture was right. the flavor ws right. The color was right. and after I'd enjoyed my piece of pie, she informed me that it was a Jewish recipe for bean pie. I was stunned.l But it opened my eyes. There are many, many recipes that use beans, peas, and lentils as thickeners. And don't forger legumes that are ground into flour, such as chick pea flour.

there are of course other veggies that can be used as thickens, such as cooked sun chokes, cattail roots, dandelion roots, etc. Taro root, jicama, sweet potatoes, yams, and other roots are used in different parts of the world to thicken and flavor foods

Ok, I've touched on veggies used as thickening agents. I;m inviting everyone on DC to contribute. Who wants to take fruits, and how they can be used as thickening agents. Someone else, of many othes can talk about starches, someone else, gums, etc. And remember, dair can include eggs, egg products, separated eggs, milk, dried milk, condensed milk, cream, cultured dairy products such as sour cream, cultured buttermilk, whey, cheese and cheese curds, etc. And then there are thickener combinations where different ingredients work in synergy with other ingredients. Oh, and don't forget sugars, syrups, noney, mollases, etc.

There is a very wide range of substances used to thicken, and enhance textures. I think htis one deserves a sticky, and will be of help to so many. I mean, I've seen people fail miserably when trying to make a simple Bechemel, or veloute, or cheese sauce because they didn't understand the simple processes involved in using basic techniques, and learning how not to break a sauce.

Ok, your turn. Let's tackle this project and create a tome of thickeners.

Seeeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North
 

larry_stewart

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Back in the day, when my dad made clam chowder ( and I helped him cook it (and eat it)), one of the last steps was taking a few ladles out of the soup, blending it up, and returning it to the soup to thicken in up. So yes, it was the veggies blended up that primarily was the thickener (veggies included potatoes, onions, carrots, okra ) which aslo has its own gummy thickening qualities).

And there is this restaurant that serves a very nice minestrone, jus thicker than that tomato brothier kinds. What they do is blend up the beans with some of the broth and add it back to the soup.

Just confirming some of the veggie techniques you mentioned above.

Tomato paste, mashed potato dried flakes, all kinds of flours

As far as fruits go, avocados and bananas blend/ mash up well to add a thickness, dates, apple sauce, jellies/ jams.
 

larry_stewart

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Dec 25, 2006
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I follow Jacques Pepin on Facebook and each day he posts a little spot on cooking.
Today he did a " Fridge Soup". Basically taking all the leftovers ( veggies from the veggie draw, left over chicken skin, side dishes from the day before ( spinach, lettuce) and making a soup out of it. Reason Im mentioning it here, is he thickened the soup with Grits. Nothing groundbreaking, but I never thought of using grits to thicken soup until now, and it makes so much sense, just never thought about it . ( he also mentioned using oats and cous cous too).
 

pepperhead212

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Woodbury, NJ
Through the years, I tested a bunch of those starches I found in the Asian markets - they would have about half an aisle (about 30 ft, both sides) with nothing but flours and starches - some called flours, but they are purified starches. I found that some would thicken, but would not stay thick (potato starch was the worst), some would not remain as thick when reheated (arrowroot, corn starch), some didn't have a good "feel" (rice and glutinous rice flours, though these are not usually used for thickening - I just tried them anyway). Tapioca starch was my favorite for Chinese and similar foods, but wheat starch is the best I found for dishes that would be reheated - it wouldn't turn watery, like many of the others, when refrigerated.

I prefer thick soups, to brothy ones, and I often just add some whole grains to a soup - barley is a favorite, or some quinoa, whole oats, or some of the moong dal or red lentils - things that cook down in 20 min or less. For thickening many soups, I keep a jar of moong dal flour. I just grind some in my VM, but I've seen in in the flour section in the Indian groceries. You can also grind some red lentils (found in most stores), to use the same way. The good thing I've found about these is that you don't have to mix them into water or fat, to prevent clumping - I just stir them into a hot soup, and they dissolve, then thicken.

Another thing that dissolves in like this, which I use for thickening chili, and similar dishes, which benefit from the flavor, is masa harina. Just stir it in, until the dish is thick enough, then simmer a couple more minutes.
 

larry_stewart

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Thanks for the tip Larry. I didn't know that Jacques Pépin had a FB page. I'm now following him too.

Its nice and simple. Right out of his kitchen, not trying to sell anyone anything. Just a guy who likes to cook and teach.

(I like being a little nosy and check out what he's got in his kitchen as he cooks).
 

Chief Longwind Of The North

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I've heard of using avocado as a thickener, even in deserts, just have never used it personaly.

Ok, so let''s explore different grais, as in how they are used, and their properties. Some are ground into flour; while some are rolled. Some are cracked, with some used whole. One of my favorites is barley. In rolled form, it is nearly identicle in texture to rolled oats, and has the same flavor. It is great for thickening poridge, as an indredient in cookies (if you think about it, cookies without a thickener such as flour or grais would be pretty messy.).
Pearl barley is used to add nutrition and body to many soups. It is even great when cooked with fruit into a desert. Barley is more nutritious than is oat products.

Another favorite is tapioka. Nothing thickens blueberry pie filling as well as tapioca. It is also great for making puddings, and those little balls of goodness in bubble tea. It can be off-puting if you try to make gravy.
Cornstarch absorbs water like none other, and is great for thickening gravies ans some sauces. It must be used fresh thogh, as it breaks down when chilled, and especially when frozen. It doesn't reheat well either.

Has anyone thought about pectin as a thickener? Of course it's what we use to thicken jams and jellies. It is a fiber, much like psillium husks. And then there is collagen. You can't make an aspic, or gelatin without it. I even used it in place of pectin to make a very good strawberry jam. And though you wouldn' think of it as a thickener when used hot, it adds nutritional value, and luxurious texture to soups, broths, consme's and stocks.

Sugar, that sweet sticky stuff that we enjoy too much is a thickener, and preservative as well. It sucks the moisture right out of microbes, causing them to perish. When I say sugars, I inclde sugar alcohols. Also in this class are thick syrups, molasses, honey, and such. These can be used with added water or dairy tomake caramels, and candies, not to mention xticky sauces for sweet rolls, icings, and frostings, glazes, and a whole plethora of sweet goodies.

Your turn.

Seeeeya; Chief Longwind Of the North
 

pepperhead212

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Chief, Modified food starch is what is used for commercial fruit pies - one of those things that used to be unavailable to most of us, but, like just about anything, anyone can get it. It's sort of a generic term - there are many versions of it - but a common type is the one that will thicken without heating.

That was what ATK recommended for one of their fruit pies, that normally got watery, upon sitting (blueberry, or one of those, I think). Not something I make, and I never got the starch, just read a lot about it.

As for gelatins - another type of thickener - one that the Asians use a lot is agar, which, unlike the regular gelatin, doesn't need refrigeration to gel - something useful in areas where not everyone has a fridge! The drawback is that it needs simmered for a while - 20 minutes or longer - to dissolve in the liquid.
 
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Chief Longwind Of The North

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Chief, Modified food starch is what is used for commercial fruit pies - one of those things that used to be unavailable to most of us, but, like just about anything, anyone can get it. It's sort of a generic term - there are many versions of it - but a common type is the one that will thicken without heating.

That was what ATK recommended for one of their fruit pies, that normally got watery, upon sitting (blueberry, or one of those, I think). Not something I make, and I never got the starch, just read a lot about it.

As for gelatins - another type of thickener - one that the Asians use a lot is agar, which, unlike the regular gelatin, doesn't need refrigeration to gel - something useful in areas where not everyone has a fridge! The drawback is that it needs simmered for a while - 20 minutes or longer - to dissolve in the liquid.

Great info, P.H. Thanks I am fond pf saying it, and I'll say it again; a ream is more effective than one person, as each has something to add.:)

Seeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North
 

pepperhead212

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Something else I forgot to mention about agar - it's vegan/vegetarian, since it comes from seaweed. Regular gelatin is an animal product, so some won't eat it.
 
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