Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sauce without flour

My wife has developed, or become aware of, a gluten intolerance. That means no pasta, obviously; no breadcrumbs; and no flour-thickened sauces. The last constraint is good for stews, I think. But sometimes, in other recipes, you want an ingredient to bind things together.

Last night, I made some spinach with cream and cheese. Normally, I would use a bechamel sauce. This time, I put about 150ml of creme fraiche into a saucepan, and simmered it until thick. Meanwhile, I cooked a bagful of spinach, drained it, and squeezed out as much liquid as I could. I stirred about three heaped tbsps of Gruyere into the cream, and tipped in the spinach.

The sauce turned runny. Perfectly pleasant, but not what I had aimed for.


OCpenguin said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your wife! But it sounds like you're making things work!

elwyn said...

Dear Nicholas,

Your wife must be relieved to have a diagnosis, and
she is lucky you are such a creative cook.

Don't forget that there are other flours to use as
thickening agents other than wheat based ones.
Rice flour, cornflour (check the label to ascertain it is
100% maize) and potato flour can be used and she should also be able to eat polenta.

Nicholas Clee said...

Thanks, both. It's not a severe problem (she won't mind my saying). A friend, whose mother is coeliac, writes:

My mother was diagnosed as a coeliac almost 30 years ago and when she's around we cook everything gluten free. It means we eat more rice and potatoes than pasta generally, but even gluten-free pasta is now easily available in the "free-from" sections of Waitrose and Sainsbury's and Tesco's I'm sure.

But the key thing is flour - since Mum was first diagnosed the gluten-free flour has got much much better. She can get it on prescription, but I just buy the Doves Plain flour and use it for everything. The only types of food where it is less than successful are those which require the elasticity of gluten (bread, of course, and pastry suspended on top of a pie), and I sometimes try the "bread flour" versions, which have natural gums added to give that stretchiness and spring. For pastry that's supported by a tin like a quiche I don't bother. Gluten-free flour makes fabulously light sponge cakes and is unrecognisable in sauces and stews - it's just a straight replacement. In an emergency you can also use cornflour but that's more difficult to manage. A lot of the bigger supermarkets stock the Dove's gluten-free flour, as do healthfood shops.

Douglas said...

Cauliflower puree works well as a bechamel substitute for gluten free dishes. There is enough starch to do the job of a bechamel (provide a thick enough base), and it holds cheese and cream well (and can be loosened with stock if needed).

Any vegetable puree with enough starch will work, for white sauce substitutes I typically use cauliflower, celery root, potato (or if the dish can take it, even turnip or sunchoke).

Cheers, and good luck!

-- Douglas Hunter

Nicholas Clee said...

That's a very surprising recommendation, Douglas - I have never considered using a starchy vegetable as a thickener. I'll give it a go.