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February 1, 2007

Arrowroot (Recipe: curried chicken wontons)

Arrowroot

Life is full of important questions.

Why did the chicken cross the road? What's up, doc? Who's on first?

Why, for as long as I can remember, have I been using arrowroot instead of cornstarch to thicken the sauces in my Chinese cooking?

During my hippie-food days when all sorts of roots were fashionable, I'm sure I read somewhere that arrowroot was a healthier alternative. Honestly, though, until I sat down to write about it, I couldn't have told you whether it is a root, and whether it's the root of an arrow or a root shaped like an arrow. And yet, there it is, always on my spice rack.

Arrowroot is, in fact, a powder made from the ground root of a Marantha arundinacea, a plant indigenous to the West Indies. The starch is extracted from rhizomes that have been growing for 6-12 months. My favorite explanation of how arrowroot got its name is that the Arawak Indians (who called it aru aru, meaning "food of food") used the starch to draw out the toxins from wounds made by poison arrows.

Considered easier on the stomach than other forms of starch, arrowroot contains calcium and carbohydrates (less than in cornstarch) as well as other nutrients, making it an effective digestive and nutrition aid. In fact, in my supermarket, arrowroot biscuit packaging now features happy, smiling babies on the box.

Here in the kitchen there are several advantages to using arrowroot.

First, it's a more powerful thickening agent than wheat flour. Substitute two teaspoons of arrowroot for one tablespoon of all-purpose flour. Half a tablespoon of cornstarch will give the same thickening power. I usually substitute one-for-one in recipes calling for cornstarch.

Second, arrowroot is flavorless and becomes clear when cooked. Unlike cornstarch, it doesn't taste like chalk when undercooked, and it doesn't dull the appearance of sauces, fruit gels or ice cream.

Third, arrowroot mixtures thicken at a lower temperature than mixtures made with flour or cornstarch, making it ideal for delicate sauces. Like cornstarch, arrowroot should be mixed thoroughly with a cold liquid before being added to hot mixtures.

Penzeys sells arrowroot, which can be difficult to find in the supermarket but is readily available in health food stores. Try it instead of cornstarch in stir-fries, stews, gravies and sauces, as well as in baked egg rolls, rhubarb crumble, and double-chocolate ice cream.

Curried chicken wontons

Without the invention of store-bought dumpling wrappers, these would be impossibly complicated to make. But they're really very quick to assemble and cook, and they can be frozen weeks ahead of time. Just pop them into a hot oven for 10-12 minutes to crisp. Makes approximately 40 wontons.

Ingredients

1 lb ground chicken (or turkey, or beef, or chopped shrimp)
2 slices minced ginger root
2 green onions, minced
4 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp arrowroot
1 Tbsp oyster-flavored sauce
Black pepper to taste
Peanut oil — 1 whole bottle
1 package dumpling wrappers (square or round)

Directions

In a nonstick frying pan, brown chicken in 1 Tbsp peanut oil. Add onions, ginger, curry powder, salt and pepper. Blend arrowroot into oyster sauce and stir into chicken mixture. Mix well, and set aside to cool.

Heat remaining oil in wok. Fill a dumpling wrapper (These can be either rectangular or triangular, or half-moon shaped if you're using round wonton skins.) with 1 tsp chicken mixture, placed in the center; paint the edges of the wrappers with water, fold wrapper in half, and press to seal. Fry 4-5 at a time for two minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, and serve with plum sauce or hoisin for dipping.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

Fascinating!

I am so relieved to see you don't make your own dumpling wrappers from scratch, Lydia. They do look easy.

My only hesitation would be burning myself with hot oil. I am wimpish about that.

arrowroot is like an unsung hero. i always use it in place of cornstarch.

I'm afraid when I think of arrowroot, I think of the Wodehouse anti-hero whose mother nagged him to have his bowl of arrowroot each evening - and wear woolen underwear - and get at least ten hours of sleep a night...

Arrowroot! Now there's something you don't hear about very often. :)

Rachel, welcome! I'm learning so much by writing about my pantry.

Mimi, fear of hot oil is a healthy thing. I've always wanted to be the kind of person who would make her own dumpling wrappers...but I'm not.

Connie, I've been using it for years, too. I use cornstarch sometimes, if I run out of arrowroot, but arrowroot is my first choice.

Paul, you have the most interesting mind!

Ari, do you ever use arrowroot in your baking? I don't bake much, so I use it mostly as a thickener.

I use arrowroot a lot in my personal cooking. I rarely post about in my blog because most people don't have it regularly. In addition to the lower temperature to thicken, one of the biggest reasons I like it is that I feel like it has a less of a gummy flavor and I actually think you can use about half of it for the same results. Don't lock me down on that but I actually dial it down quite a bit when I use it. I love the wanton recipe. I'm a big fan of them.

Wonderful spotlight on arrowroot!

Cornstarch also makes food leavened, unlike arrowroot, and therefore unfit for consumption at Passover.

Wow, thanks for the enlightenment! I never knew what it was, it always sounded so foreign.
Another one of life's mysteries solved!
I'll buy some.

Lydia,

I have never used arrowroot!

There are some Brazilian cookies called "sequilhos" that call for this ingredient, though. They're very dry and kind of powdery, people like to have them with black coffee.

I'm so used to using corn starch!

I've always known of Arrowroot biscuits. They must have been around forever. Here's the ingredient list for Nabisco's Arrowroot Biscuits. HFCS shows up again! and before Arrrowroot. They use corn starch too. Is arrowroot flour the same as what's in the Penzeys jar?

Ingredients: ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), SUGAR (BEET AND CANE), PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, ARROWROOT FLOUR, CORNSTARCH, SOY LECITHIN (EMULSIFIER), SALT, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA).

Husband, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I agree that arrowroot has a cleaner flavor than cornstarch -- at least it seems so, to me.

Tom, thank you! I never realized that about the leavening, but for those who observe Passover dietary laws, this is a great thing to know about arrowroot.

Pam, give it a try and let us know how you like it. I do think you'll be able to tell the difference.

Patricia, now I have to find a recipe for sequilhos. I wonder, are they like Mexican wedding cookies or the Greek cookies (I can't remember the name now)? I'm learning so many fascinating recipes for Brazilian cooking from you and your wonderful blog.

Rupert, this is downright scary about the arrowroot biscuits. Why, I wonder, do we feed them to kids???? Yes, arrowroot flour and the arrowroot from Penzeys are one and the same. Many older cookbooks call for arrowroot "flour", so I had to look up the answer to be sure!

It's good to know the amount of arrowroot used for thickening is the same amount when using cornstarch.

I usually use arrowroot instead of cornstarch for my slurries---but there's really no reason to use a slurry to thicken a stew! Instead, start the stew by browning your potatoes and then the potatoes will thicken the stew as they simmer and break down.

I don't think I have ever tried to use arrowroot. Very interesting post, thanks Lydia

Veron, I admit I'm a somewhat approximate cook, so the one-to-one substitution works for me. See Husband's comment, above -- he's a chef.

Jesse, you're right about thickening stews with potatoes. But for stews that don't have potatoes or another starchy vegetable, sometimes you need to give them a helping hand with a slurry. Arrowroot mixed with a bit of cold water always does the trick, without making the stew gummy.

Bea, I've never tried this, but I think arrowroot is supposed to be wonderful in ice creams and pastries. I'll be watching your gorgeous blog to see if arrowroot makes an appearance in the future!

Thanks, Marcia for sending the two Arrowroot recipes. I'll try them. Nice to see they don't need all those chemicals! Rupert
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp. unrefined sea salt
2 Tbp. real vanilla
2 Tbp. arrowroot powder
1/2 cup maple syrup (pref. Grade B)
2 cups unsweetened coconut, small flake

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter parchment paper or cut
up brown paper grocery bags and butter the side withoutprinting. Beat whites until stiff peaks form- beat in salt, vanilla and arrowroot powder- fold in maple syrup- fold in coconut.
Drop in spoonfuls onto parchment paper covered cookie sheets.
Bake for 45 min to an hour, depending on what sweetener you used (honey will brown faster) cookies should be dry and barely
touched with golden brown. Let cool completely before removing from paper. Makes ~ 2 dozen, depending on how many you eat before you count them and how big you make the cookies!
-----------------------
Arrowroot Cookies

Makes 3 1/2 dozen

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup arrowroot flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

1 Cream butter or margarine and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla.
2 Stir remaining ingredients together and add. Mix well.
3 Roll 1/8 inch thick on floured
surface. Cut into 2 1/2 inch rounds.
Prick with fork. Grease baking sheet. Bake in 350 degree F (175 degrees C) oven until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Allow a bit more baking time if rolled thicker.

You are welcome, Rupert. And thank you for typing it all out for everyone else!!

Hi Lydia, thanks for tagging cumin and coriander on the MeMe post, I got bagged and tagged *lol* By the way, you have used arrowroot starch, that is great !! Yessss, I've forgotten about this particular chinese new year cookies my mom used to make that uses arrowroot flour, its flaky, tasty and yummy !! Thanks for sharing, cheers ! :)

Rupert and Marcia, thank you for sharing these healthy arrowroot cookies.

Melting Wok, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! Would love to know your mother's recipe for Chinese new year cookies... maybe you'll blog about them???!

Wow, I never realized all the different uses of arrowroot. All I knew of it was those plain arrowroot biscuits that I was given as a kid when I was sick.
Lydia, the banner is super-cute, I just noticed it!

I love arrowroot.I use it pretty consistently around here.And always from Penzey's!

Nupur, thanks! Shawn Kenney, a wonderful artist, helped design the banner for me. Keep watching -- over the next bunch of weeks we're going to fill the pantry shelf!

Elizabeth, Penzeys is the best, isn't it?


Hello, I want to thicken up a simple syrup mixture to use as a walnut or pecan sauce for ice cream. IS arrowroot appropriate for this purpose? Will the thickness of the sauce be stable for a few days?

John, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I'm going to make my best guess here and say that the arrowroot should work; it definitely will be stable once it's cooked into the simple syrup. An advantage to arrowroot is that it is a clear thickener. But in a nut sauce for ice cream? I just don't have any experience with using it that way.

Pantry readers, if you can advise on this, please leave a comment here. Thanks!

I've used arrowroot as a substitute for cornstarch for gravies, sauces etc. but I am wondering if it can be utilized w/o cooking?
I'd like to make my own "powdered" sugar and since powdered surgar is a blend of cornstarch and sugar I am wondering if I can make my own preferably using a non-calorie sugar such as splenda for low-cal icings, candies, etc. Anyone know if arrowroot must be cooked? Thanks

Karen, I wish I could answer your question, but I have no idea about using arrowroot to make a powdered sugar substitute.

Pantry readers, can you advise?

My mind has just been blown! I found this entry when I googled "arrowroot" after a new cookbook called for its use in all its vinaigrettes. This just might win the award for coolest ingredient I've never heard of! And your explanation, by the way, was way better than wikipedia's. :) Thank you!

Sarah, welcome back to The Perfect Pantry. So glad you found what you needed here. Arrowroot is one of those ingredients you'll get used to working with, and you'll never go back to cornstarch. (I haven't written about cornstarch here, yet, because I can't find my jar of it on the pantry shelf! The arrowroot is always up front.)

HI
CAN YOU PLEASE INFORM ME IF YOU CAN MAKE CHAPPATIS WITH THIS FLOUR AND IF SO WHERE CAN I BUY FROM

I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR REPLY

shuja12@hotmail.co.uk

REGARDS
SHUJA

I check Wikipedia and found that powdered sugar is finely powdered sugar and to prevent caking up to 3% cornstarch is added.

WiseGeek.com says "You can make it at home by putting sugar in a coffee grinder or grinding by hand with a mortar and pestle."

Another Karen

Thanks for this article on arrow root to be used as a thickener in curries ....I just tried it as I had run out of cornflower and it does work a treat ..I always thought that arrow root was only used to thicken sweet puddings and such like .

big thanks

PS I am also going to make the biscuits

Vera

Nice post! Just an FYI: a mixture of arrowroot and cocoa powder mixed together makes a smooth and soft, light and natural face powder.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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