GENERAL There are many ways to thicken sauces, soups, stews and other foods. The following are among the more popular thickeners.

? Roux, a mixture of flour and fat, is typically used to thicken sauces, gravies, soups and stews. The color and flavor of a roux are determined by the length of time the mixture?s cooked. The roux?s flavor, of course, becomes incorporated into that of the food. See ROUX for details.

? Beurre manie is a mixture of equal parts flour and softened butter, blended together to form a smooth paste. Bits of beurre manie are stirred into a boiling mixture until it thickens.

? Slurry is a simple mixture of equal amounts of flour and cold water used for thickening. No precooking is required; however, after the slurry is stirred into a hot mixture, it should be cooked for at least 5 minutes to diminish the flour?s raw taste.

? Cornstarch and arrowroot both have a stronger thickening power than that of flour. When using these thickeners, combine them first with a little liquid (broth, wine, water), stirring to make a paste. Always stir the liquid into the starch, rather than vice versa. Adding dry cornstarch or arrowroot directly to a mixture will create lumps.

? Use a whisk when adding a flour-, cornstarch- or other starch-based paste to a hot liquid. Whisk the liquid rapidly while drizzling in the starch mixture to thoroughly disperse it.

? Eggs are typically used to thicken custards, sauces and soups. You can use either whole eggs, yolks only or a combination of the two. When thickening with eggs, care must be taken not to heat them too quickly. The best way to handle this is to lightly beat the eggs, then rapidly stir in some of the hot mixture. Over low heat, slowly stir in the warmed egg fusion and keep stirring until the mixture is thickened as desired.

? Potatoes are one of my favorite thickeners. Combine cooked potatoes with a little liquid, puree, then stir into the mixture being thickened. Cook a potato quickly by quartering it and putting it in a microwave-safe bowl with a tablespoon of water. Cover and cook on high for 5 minutes, or until the potato is done. Mash the potato with a fork, then scoop it out of the skin directly into the mixture being thickened. You can also freeze leftover mashed potatoes in 1/2-cup blobs and stir into a sauce or gravy. Or save the flesh of leftover baked potatoes, mash with a little liquid and use the same way. And, though I don?t recommend them for general consumption, instant mashed potatoes also work. Add a tablespoon or two, then wait a minute to check the thickening action before adding more.

? Cooked rice works the same way. Puree it with enough liquid (wine, broth or some of the mixture you?ll be thickening) to create a thick but pourable mixture.

? Bread also makes a good thickener. Cut off the crusts, then crumble the bread, a little at a time, directly into the liquid to be thickened. Start with about 1/4 cup crumbs and add more if necessary. White bread isn?t your only option?rye or wheat can add a hearty flavor to soups and stews.

? Quick-cooking oatmeal can be used in the same way as bread, as can leftover cooked oatmeal.

? Tapioca flour and quick-cooking tapioca are good for thickening mixtures such as sauces, fruit fillings, soups and glazes. Tapioca-thickened mixtures don?t require stirring during cooking, can withstand long cooking times and don?t get cloudy. Tapioca flour produces a smooth texture; quick-cooking tapioca leaves tiny pieces of tapioca suspended in whatever it thickens.

? Vegetable puree can thicken and flavor soups and sauces. If you?re making a soup, simply cook more vegetables than you?ll need, remove them from the soup with a slotted spoon, and puree them in a blender with a little liquid. Stir the puree back into the soup. It?s a low-calorie, high-nutrition way to thicken soup. Save leftover cooked vegetables to puree and stir into sauces.


PURCHASING Tapioca, a starch extracted from cassava roots, is commonly available in three forms. Pearl tapioca (which comes in both small and large sizes) and quick-cooking tapioca are available in most supermarkets. Tapioca flour or starch (also called cassava flour) is more commonly found in natural food stores and Asian and Latin American markets.

STORING Stored airtight in a cool, dry place, tapioca will keep indefinitely.

? Pearl tapioca is typically used to make puddings; it must be soaked for several hours to soften it before cooking.

? Quick-cooking tapioca, a granular form, is most often used as a thickener and doesn?t require presoaking.

? Both pearl and quick-cooking tapioca are cooked through when they?re absolutely clear.

? Tapioca flour and quick-cooking tapioca are excellent thickeners for sauces, fruit fillings, soups, glazes, and so on. Tapioca-thickened mixtures don?t require stirring during cooking, can withstand long cooking times, and don?t get cloudy. Unlike cornstarch- and flour-thickened preparations, tapioca-based mixtures don?t break down when frozen, then reheated. However, quick-cooking tapioca leaves tiny pieces of tapioca suspended in whatever it thickens, whereas tapioca flour produces a smooth mixture.

? If you can?t find tapioca flour, and don?t like the small, cooked bits that quick-cooking tapioca leaves in soups, sauces, and so on, process quick-cooking tapioca in a blender or food processor until powdery.

? To thicken mixtures with tapioca flour, first make a thin paste by combining it with water, then stir it into a hot liquid.

? Once tapioca is added to a liquid, don?t let the mixture boil or the tapioca may get stringy.

? Overstirring a tapioca mixture while cooling produces a sticky, gelatinous texture.


TIDBIT Arrowroot, a fine powder used for thickening, comes from the dried rootstalks of a tropical tuber.

PURCHASING Arrowroot is available in all supermarkets.

STORING Store airtight at room temperature.

SUBSTITUTIONS For 1 rounded teaspoon arrowroot use: 1 rounded teaspoon potato starch, 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, or 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour or quick-cooking tapioca.

? Arrowroot?s thickening power is about 1 1/2 times that of all-purpose flour.

? Like cornstarch, arrowroot should be mixed with enough cold liquid to make a paste before being stirred into hot mixtures.

? Unlike cornstarch, arrowroot doesn?t impart a chalky taste when undercooked.

? Arrowroot thickens mixtures at a lower temperature than either cornstarch or flour.

? Overstirring an arrowroot-thickened mixture can cause it to become thin again.

? Some British and early American recipes call for arrowroot flour, which is the same thing as arrowroot.


TIDBIT Cornstarch is a dense, powdery ?flour? made from a corn kernel?s endosperm. Sauces thickened with cornstarch are clear, whereas flour-thickened sauces are opaque.

PURCHASING Available in a supermarket baking section.

EQUIVALENT 1 pound = 3 cups

? You need half as much cornstarch to thicken mixtures as you do flour. Therefore, for each tablespoon flour called for, substitute 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch.

? Flour is more heat stable than cornstarch for thickening, so when cooking a high-heat mixture, use a combination of the two. If a recipe calls for 2 tablespoons cornstarch, use 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 2 tablespoons flour.

? Cornstarch clumps easily, so mix it with a small amount of cold liquid to form a thin paste before stirring it into a hot mixture.

? Stirring cornstarch together with some of the granulated sugar in a recipe will also help disperse it in liquid.

? Stir constantly as you add the cornstarch paste to a hot liquid, bringing the mixture to a boil. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring often, for the mixture to obtain maximum thickness.

? Mixtures thickened with cornstarch will begin to thin if cooked too long, or at too high a temperature, or if stirred too vigorously.

? Some baking recipes call for using all or part cornstarch instead of flour. Such recipes produce a finer-textured, more compact product than flour alone. In British recipes, cornstarch is referred to as ?corn flour.?