The one component that binds other ingredients together in a composed dish is a sauce. Sauces can range in flavor and texture, but all maintain some level of thickness. Remember: sauces are essentially a basic stock plus a binding agent.
In traditional French cooking, the element which thickens a sauce is called a binder or binding agent. There are a number of binding agents that a cook can use to thicken a sauce. Below is a list of some of the best binders one can use, so here’s how to thicken a sauce!
1) White Flour
– One way to use white flour as a thickener is to make a roux. A roux is equal parts flour and butter, that is cooked over heat until the butter has melted and the flour taste has cooked out. A roux is most commonly used in southern gumbos and gravies, but can be used in a wide range of sauces.
– Another option for white flour is make a beurre manié. This is similar to a roux in that it’s equal parts butter and flour, but the mixture is brought to room temperature and kneaded together. Adding a beurre manié to a basic stock will make a luscious sauce.
– The third way to use white flour as a binding agent is to singer. Singer is a traditional French cooking technique, meaning to sprinkle dry flour over the sautéed protein or veg. Then slowly add the stock, and the liquid will begin to thicken. This is the perfect technique to use when making stews like beef bourgeon.
2) Other Starches
– There are many starches other than white flour that will also thicken a sauce. Some of these starches include cornstarch, rice flour, and potato starch. The best way to utilize these starches is to make a slurry (a mixture of the starch and water whisked together). Once combined, the slurry is added to a stock, brought to a boil, and the sauce will thicken.
3) Double Cream
– Cream is a great option for binding a sauce, and double cream is another name for whipping cream. Simply whisk the cream into a sauce for added creaminess and thickness.
4) Egg Yolk
– Though this a more temperamental option, egg yolks are also a great option for binding a sauce. When using egg yolks, start by tempering (add a small amount of the hot liquid to the yolks, so the yolks will begin to warm up and not scramble). Once the yolks are tempered, then fully incorporate the yolks into the liquid. Continue to whisk vigorously and do not allow the sauce to boil. Sauces with egg yolks as the binder have the potential to curdle and break, so be careful to not overheat. A traditional hollandaise sauce is the perfect example of a sauce bound with egg yolks.
– Butter is not a primary thickener, but it will add a silky mouthfeel and velvety thickness. Simply whisk butter into a sauce, and it is bound.
– Similar to egg yolks, mustard is also temperamental. If a sauce is bound with mustard and is brought to a boil, it will ultimately break. On the other hand, mustard (like a French dijon) will add a complex flavor to the sauce, so it’s a wonderful option for binding a sauce.