Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Answer to my Prayer?

I've scampered up to my little office to tell you some very good news. To put you in the picture, many years ago I asked a chef why the gravy in manufactured ready-meals never split when cooked, yet mine always did. The reply given was that the thickening ingredient used was not available to the general public (but, in a whisper, told it had something to do with rice). Up till now, the finest rice I could buy was ground rice, but typing in 'flour' as I was preparing my supermarket order, 'rice flour' came up in the list. So I ordered some (an Asian brand), and yesterday did some experimenting.
Apart from using it when cooking, my Indian cook-book explains that rice flour, made to a paste with water, is often used to paint decorations on the skin, walls and floors for special occasions. I tried this on a piece of glass to represent snow and it worked well. A useful tip for Xmas). The most interesting thing was that the remaining 'paint' in the dish I had left overnight had thinned down to a more 'paintable' texture, but had not dried out or separated as cornflour would have done.
When used to thicken, rice flour is used exactly like cornflour. My trial 'gravy' started the same way but seemed to be thicker than expected, so I stirred it well an added more water to get the 'thick gravy' consistency I was after. After boiling it for a couple of minutes it was cooled and frozen overnight. This morning, thawed in the microwave , it stayed thick (almost too thick) without any water leaching out.
Obviously now I need to make a proper casserole and adjust the thickness of the gravy, freeze it and see what happens but have a very strong feeling I'm on to a winner here. In a later posting I will report back on this.
For research purposes (again), I bought a 'buy two for £4' offer of frozen beef and mushroom pies, just to try and work out how much I could save making them myself. We ate one last night and my husband and I both agreed that the gravy, pastry and the mushrooms were good - but the meat was dreadful, no flavour and impossible to chew properly. We had to leave that on the side of our plates. More on this experiment in a later posting.

Tip: Returning to the Xmas theme. As well as (rice flour) snow on windows, you can also 'frost' windows using the old method of dissoving Epson salts in water or vinegar and dabbing this on the glass (originally used when you needed to stop people peering in and you couldn't afford curtains). Using stencils you could form some frosty snowflake or star patterns on the windows. Again, easily wiped off with a damp cloth.
Note: Rice flour is gluten free, and can be used, instead of breadcrumbs, as a coating when frying.