Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Thickening it Old School

In the 70's it became cool to thicken sauces with reduced cream, emulsified butter, bone marrow and pure starch-virtually anything but mixtures of flour and butter. Roux almost became obsolete and so too did its even easier-to-make (but less stable) sibling beurre manie - typically made by kneading equal volumes of butter and flour together before dispersing it in a hot liquid such as stock.

I don't often thicken sauces at home. But tonight the urge to enrich some chicken stock and use it as a sauce for roast chicken was more than I could endure. The partial result is here in this slide show for your gustation.


Charlotte said...

Hey Bob -- I love these slideshows -- they're really informative.

Bob del Grosso said...

Thanks! I like to hope that somebody can get something out of them. I cannot afford to take the time to explain them well, so I don't have a lot of faith that anyone will understand them. I'm very glad that you find them useful!

The Foodist said...

Im amazed really how steadfast culinary schools are to teaching their students things like Roux, White Wash, and Slurry.

With the massive move toward more "healthy" ways of thickening (IE Natural Reductions, Gelatin) we actually see little of it in practice at school.

In my humbled opinion theres no comparing a Volute with roasted chicken to any reduced sauce.. theres something wonderful and gloriously fatty about it!..

The Foodist said...

btw did you serve as is? or add something to it? strain it? monte? do tell do tell!

Scotty said...

There is, I think, a unique mouth feel to a sauce thickened by flour/fat. Once tasted, it cannot be replaced by any other method. There are moments when you just crave it. My last time was gravy for the Chanukah roast. Nothing else would be right.

Though I did use Olive Oil, my Grandma would have used that or schmaltz.

Simon said...

That is so odd that you are posting about this. Last week I was invited to dinner to a friends's place and the dinner involved a bechamel with cheese in it that was a little cheesy for the taste of my hostess so she decided to lighten it by adding way too much milk... I had to save the day with a little beurre maniƩ... and dinner was served seconds later :-)

BTW: good job on the charcuterie posts, I love them. I am brining a lamb leg right nwo and it will get the fat+anis seed treatment in a few days... and I have some bresaola in the fridge getting cured too... That Ruhlman book is rocking my world...

Tags said...

Reminds me of when I lent my Paul Prudhomme book to a guy who recently opened a donut shop/luncheonette.

It had great pictures of various stages of roux coloration and a description of the corresponding flavors of each.

One day, I went to this place and there was a guy from the electric co. turning off the electricity.

Goodbye Paul and your lovely pictures!

Jennie/Tikka said...

I confess that at home, I thicken primarily with cream...its probably the most dangerous habit I picked up from school.

Just the other night when I was hunting for my favorite Madeleine recipe to do some baking, I ran across my quizzes about roux from school. Knee-jerk reaction for me, I see "roux" and I immediately think, "Cajun."

Had some of the most horrendously prepared Bechamel the other night. It was supposed to be an Afredo sauce but clearly they forgot to use either cheese, butter, or seasoning of any sort. It tasted like raw flour.

The Foodist said...


Alfredo traditionaly is thickened by grated fresh parm into cream with butter and allowing the cheese and reduction to thicken it, though adding roux is a faster way of doing it.

As you discovered roux has that issue of tasting...well like raw flour. If you want to add roux try adding it to the cream then letting the starch cook out by simmering lightly longer before adding the cheese, that should help with the flavor!

einmaleins said...

yeah, the slideshow is pretty great - that's a perfect how-to tool!

Bob del Grosso said...

Simon, you wrote
"I had to save the day with a little beurre maniƩ."

That's exactly what it is best suited for: a last minute fix. Something funky happens if you cook it long- it falls apart. I used to know the science behind this, but now it is vague. It might have something to do with the fact that some of the thickening happens when an emulsion is created after the butter is dispersed. But it falls apart with prolong cooking when the emulsion breaks.

Or the thinning out may be a function of the action of naturally occurring amylase in the flour. Amylase catalyzes the breakdowm of starch. In roux it is not an issuee because it is destroyed when you cook the roux, but in beurre manie it is still acive---I think that's it.

I added tomato and rosemary, of course!


Cream? My goodness you are a lush. Bless you, that is great.

"Shoot" the idiot who used starch in Alfredo. The only starch in that dish should be in the pasta.


boberica said...

Hi Bob,
Your slideshows are probably some of the most useful culinary stuff on the web right now, don't lose hope, and thank you. Heath Putnam and his wooly pigs blog is also great if you're looking.
In alot of the kitchens I've run, I have my saute guy keep little beurre manie balls in the reach in. (just in case), although I think it's much more valid than just a repair technique. Reduced sauces, love them, over reduced sauces...don't love them. Schmaltz...MMMMMMMMMM!!

Bob del Grosso said...

I know U didn't ask but I'm tired so humor me. I don't have a strong preference for one type of sauce over another. I prefer what I feel like making and what I think will taste best. Although I suppose I end up making reductions the most because they are the easiest to make.

BTW, Your use of beurre manie as a last minute fix is precisely the appropriate use. I just remembered the reason why you cannot use it as a thickener for a sauce that you want to hold for a while. Flour contains a natural enzyme (amylase) that breaks down starch. If you make a sauce with beurre maine (or a flour slurry for that matter) it will fall apart when the amylase rips up the starch. The reason this does not happen with roux, for example, is that the enzyme is denatured when you cook the roux with the butter.

boberica said...

Does anyone ever use the liason anymore? can't really think of a place for it in my cooking, but it would be interesting to hear about...