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Tomato soup with a slurry thickener. Photo courtesy Bull and Bear restaurant | Chicago.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

JOHNNY GNALL is a chef and freelance writer based in San Francisco.

 

 

February 2012

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Soups & Stocks

Sauce, Stew & Soup Thickener Types

Page 1: Roux & Slurry

 

CAPSULE REPORT: Chef Johnny Gnall shares what all culinary students are taught: the different thickener types for soups, stews and sauces. This is Page 1 of three-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.

When it comes to making a sauce, a soup, or a stew, it’s no question that body and thickness can make a big difference in a dish. Nobody wants watery chowder or runny béchamel, and there’s nothing better than sopping up a luscious, velvety stew with a hunk of bread. But how does one achieve such texture? As a matter of fact, there are more ways to do it than you’d think, and each method comes with its own roots and familiar stomping ground. Here are the most common:

Roux

Pronounced “rue,” this is the classic French beginning to almost everything in the culinary bible, Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire. It’s a really dependable and stable way to thicken. When you start with a roux, you establish body in your dish early on.

  • Mix. To make a roux, gradually whisk/stir together equal parts melted butter and flour until you get a paste. It’s done when it smells like cookies in the oven (but beware, it doesn’t taste like that).
  • Cook. At this point, the roux is “blonde,” but you can continue to cook it to brown or very brown, depending on what you’re making. Higher degrees of browning add a nutty flavor. (If you add add some milk and nutmeg, you’ve made a Béchamel sauce; adding some cheese to that makes it a Mornay sauce.)
  • Thicken. Next, whisk in some chicken stock and season; perhaps a touch of cream and sherry, and voilà!

A roux is a terrific way to start a gravy. Once you’ve made it a couple of times, it will become one of your kitchen stand-bys.

 

Slurry

This is the quick-fix solution when you need to thicken in a hurry and didn’t start with a roux. It’s also a good option when you want whatever it is you’re thickening to be more clear than opaque.

Slurries are common in the recipes of many Asian cuisines, particularly wok dishes, due to the fast and furious nature of wok cooking. As a chef of mine once drilled into my head: “If you’re in a hurry, use a slurry!”

  • Mix. Mix together 1 part corn starch with 1-1/2 parts cold water. It’s important to whisk the two together as thoroughly as possible, in a separate container before adding to your stew, sauce or soup. It’s also important that the water is cold.
  • Blend. Slowly incorporate the cold slurry into your dish; a quarter cup should be more than plenty for whatever it is you’re cooking. Continue to stir for several minutes, as the slurry will not begin to thicken until it’s cooked to about 200°F.
  • Thin. If the slurry overcooks, it will thin out once again. So save adding the slurry until the end of the recipe.
 
Broccoli soup, thickened with a slurry. Photo courtesy Frontier Soups.

Continue To Page 2: Soup Thickener Types Including Ragu & Bread

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