How to Use Egg Yolks as an Alternative Thickener
Every chef has a few tricks up their sleeve. Whether it be unexpected ingredient combinations to curious kitchen gadgets, these tiny hacks can make or break your at-home recipes. If you follow a dairy-free or gluten-free diet, creating the perfect consistency without a butter-flour roux in recipes can be challenging to even the most studied cooks. One method to keep in your back pocket is using egg yolks to thicken sauces and soups, and to turn leftover pan liquid into a dreamy flavor infusion.
Once you get the hang of it, using egg yolks as a thickening agent is a relatively simple way to create a deep, rich flavor and texture, plus a little punch of protein. This process requires some finesse: undercooking just makes things messy, and overcooking could lead to an unwanted version of scrambled eggs.
That said, there’s no need to be intimidated. Eggs are cheap enough to experiment with until you get into the swing.
Tempering Eggs to Thicken Sauces
To thicken sauces and prevent an unwanted scramble, it’s crucial that you temper the yolk mixture. Simply put, tempering means you bring the egg yolks slowly up to the temperature of the liquid you’re mixing it with. If the temperature increases too quickly, the proteins in the yolks link up to make scrambled eggs. Here’s how to do it:
- Crack and beat your yolks in a bowl.
- Slowly and gradually add about a cup or so of the heated sauce, soup, or liquid, while whisking. Add a little more to make sure it is warming.
- Add this mixture slowly back into your pot or pan to finish thickening the sauce, stirring while you pour. Tip: If the sauce is at a boil, it’ll curdle, so be sure to lower the heat.
If a recipe calls for a roux (flour and egg), you can use the yolk alone: temper egg yolks into a hot dish and whisk briskly.
Fun fact: Primal Kitchen® just updated the Ranch Dressing recipe, adding organic egg yolks, a natural emulsifier, for a thicker, creamier dressing that’s still dairy-free.
Elevate Your Greens Game with Egg Yolks
If you’re cooking greens that produce an excess liquid in the bottom of the pan, you can make an effortless sauce that goes with any green. Here’s how to do it:
- Cook your greens
- Remove your pan from heat
- Remove greens from your pan, leaving as much liquid in the bottom of your pan as you can.
- Add an egg yolk to the remaining liquid in the pan and stir briskly.
Using Egg Yolks for a Dreamy Pasta Sauce
To add yolks to gluten-free pasta dishes, scoop out and set aside about a cup or so of pasta water before draining. Make a well in the center of the pot with the pasta, and add in a bit of the water and yolk, and stir, coating the pasta with the mixture as you go. The trick is to keep it moving.
Once your yolk is cooked through, it will act as a glaze to whatever else is in the pan, so use yolks for pasta, meat, veggies, or greens.
Final Tips for Using Eggs as a Thickener
- Important: If you’re cooking in an aluminum pan, don’t use egg yolks to thicken–they’ll turn gray.
- As with any recipe, the quality of your ingredients affects the quality of your outcome. Here’s how to buy high-quality eggs.
- Eggs are a little finicky, and it might take a few tries to get the hang of it. But once you do, you’ll open up a whole new world of creamy, saucy deliciousness.
- Egg yolks work as a thickener for a lot of applications, but they don’t work for everything. If you want more ideas for ways to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups, check out this article on how to thicken sauce without flour.
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