Tuesday, February 26, 2013

....Cooking II: Wheat Free Roux

I cook for a growing number of people who are either allergic to wheat or gluten intolerant.  I've found it frustrating at times, because it means that I have 6 versions of things, mapping my way through the minefield of people's allergies.  Since I myself have issues with MSG and latex bearing fruits such as mangoes, peach and kiwi skins, I'm willing to take the time to make sure we don't have to inject anyone with an epipen or nurse them through a rough night bowel issues while camping in the wilds of Northwestern Pennsylvania or Southern Mississippi.  And I pride myself on the sometimes egomaniacal idea that I can feed anyone.

There are a number of wheat alternatives, but I've found relatively little practical knowledge about the properties of these alternatives, recipes or anything like that.  So, being an experimental sort of cook, I'm going to try to rectify the situation myself.  I'll be cataloging my failures and successes here.

Roux is such a basic thing, it's flour, oil and water, but it gives body and a little nutrition to otherwise thin sauces.  A good roux makes a gumbo more hearty, and a bad roux can ruin a meal.  It's the base for so many sauces and gravies that don't use corn starch or arrowroot.  The importance of roux is easy to understate.  So not being able to make a good turkey gravy for our Pennsic Thanksgiving meal that everyone can eat is a little heart breaking for me.

Enter the Alternative Grains Division, Buckwheat, Millet, Teff, Amaranth, Quinoia, and Rice.  I've left out the cousins of wheat, Barely and Rye because their gluten protein profile is pretty much identical to European wheats.  Oats and Maize Corn have been left out of that list as well because several of my allergy eaters are also allergic to the oats and the corn.  Rice was also not included in this round of experimentation because I find the gritty texture of rice flour off-putting when thinking about a gravy, where the smooth texture shouldn't distract from the flavour of the sauce.  Mouth feel is very important.

If you are living wheat or gluten free, there will be plenty of posts and recipes, insights and most importantly, information on what grains haven't been good at doing certain jobs and how they tasted in the things I've produced.

For today's roux experiment, I have played with Buckwheat, Millet, Teff and Amaranth.  The photos show the various roux's after they've cooled and congealed. 

The Buckwheat I used is from a naturally dark, organic seed grown in Kansas.  It's naturally nutty, almost mushroomy flavour is good for sauces and gravies that are heavy in flavour, like a mushroom, tomato or beef gravy.  It mixes well with both olive oil and butter for the initial making of the roux.  When I normally make the tomato sauce to go with my stuffed cabbages, I usually use a breadcrumb roux.  I made a small amount to test the buckwheat, and I honestly could tell the difference in flavour from the buckwheat to the breadcrumbs.  I also used it to make a gravy from the juices of a pot roast, and it matched the flavour of the beef beautifully.  From now on at events, buckwheat roux will be by my side.

The other three, I've made but not yet experimented with. 

Millet is yellowish in colour, and the texture of the flour is like the finest corn flour you've ever seen.  It's the grainiest of all the textures listed today, and I imagine that it'll be great for use in place of corn flour for corn bread or corn pudding.  I also suspect that it'd be good in pecan sandy cookies, since the grain is slightly sweet.

My first go with the Teff wasn't the most resounding success I've ever had, I didn't have enough butter to flour and so it went lumpy.  It's fairly smooth, despite my failure and just a little sweeter than the millet.  I get the sense that it will work pretty well for chicken and pork gravies. 

Amaranth was very smooth in texture, but slightly grassy in flavour and not as sweet tasting.  I think it'll be good for turkey gravy, which is stronger in flavour than chicken, and could make an interesting savoury pudding or bechemel sauce.  Duck and goose are also options.  As you can see, even cold it's still creamy and smooth in texture.

I'll add comments as I further explore these four seed/grain flour roux types. 

Twerpy Thought of the Day:
Never be afraid to fail with your food, and you'll never fail at being surprised by your food.  Sometimes surprises are good things.

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