Lesson 2: Gluten Free Gravy and Sauces

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Making gluten free gravy and sauces isn’t much different than making gluten gravy other than the ingredients. This lesson covers several methods. Your choices include the use of gluten free flours, starches, all-purpose flour blends, gums, or pureed vegetables and other natural ingredients. Learn how to use each.


Making a Roux

A roux is the basis of most sauces. You combine 40% heated, melted fat (butter, animal fat, oil, etc.) by weight with 60% flour by weight, gluten free flour in this case, in a skillet or saucepan over medium heat until the flour softens, about 5 minutes. If you want a blond sauce, you don’t allow the butter to brown. If you wish a deeper colored and flavored sauce, you allow the butter to brown. The four standard colors are white, blonde, brown, and dark brown. However, you need to be careful as it can go from browned to burnt quickly. To prevent burning a roux, you may continue the cooking process to dark brown in a 350⁰F preheated oven.

Note that the most commonly used fat in roux is clarified butter. You just melt butter over medium heat until the milk solids fall to the bottom of the saucepan and the water all boils out.

When making a roux, the fat that you use coats each flour particle creating a smoother gravy. However, if your roux tends to be lumpy, be sure to add cold liquid (milk, broth, etc.) to a hot roux and hot liquid to a cold roux. In addition, add the liquid slowly while constantly whisking.

Also, to help prevent lumps, never add flour without fat to broth or other liquid because the flour quickly absorbs liquid and does not break down all of the flour particles. Instead, the flour clumps together. This is why the roux method is preferred over adding a mixture of water and flour to the liquid.


The Five Mother Sauces

There are five basic mother sauces that you can add additional ingredients to make other sauces. The five mother sauces include:

Bechamel (roux mixed with milk). A béchamel sauce starts with a roux. Béchamel is one of the mother culinary sauces with which you are probably most familiar. The liquid used in béchamel is milk where you use equal amounts of milk as you do butter, creating a basic white sauce. If you’re watching fat intake, use less butter. Bechamel sauce may be used as is or other ingredients may be added such as grated cheese, cream, diced onion, tomato sauce, wine, and/or Worcestershire sauce, creating a daughter or secondary sauce. Adding grated cheese alone creates Mornay Sauce.


Veloute (roux mixed with stock or broth).

Espagnole, also known as “brown sauce” is usually made from veal or beef stock with the addition of tomato puree and mirepoix (sauteed vegetables, usually two parts onion, one part carrots, and one part celery in butter), which is similar to the sauce used in Beef Bourguignon).

Sauce Tomate (cooked down tomatoes thickened or not thickened with roux and traditionally flavored with pork).

Hollandaise (a mixture of butter and egg yolk thickened with lemon juice or vinegar) used to pour over Asparagus or Eggs Benedict.


Daughter Sauces

Below you find two examples of secondary sauces.



You can create a classic Demi-Glace by simply adding a sachet of thyme, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, and additional beef stock to Espagnole sauce. To make the sachet, add the herbs to cheesecloth, twist tightly, and knot with kitchen string. Leave the string long enough to hang over the side of the saucepan. Just watch it carefully so that it doesn’t burn. If your saucepan has a handle with a hole, tie the sachet to that.

Sauce Robert:

If you take a Demi-Glace and add butter, onion, white wine, sugar, and dry mustard you’ll make Sauce Robert.


You can make bordelaise by simply adding a reduction of red wine, shallots, and poached beef marrow to Espagnole.



The other culinary method of making a sauce is to make a slurry of equal parts of starch mixed with a liquid (water, broth, etc.) Once you mix the slurry, you add it slowly to a strong simmer of liquid, while whisking constantly.


All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour vs Rice Flour

Using gluten free all-purpose flour works well for dishes that you will serve immediately. However, many of them thin once reheated. You may still wish to use flour to achieve a blonde color gravy which starches cannot create. If you decide to use this method, instead of using an all-purpose gluten free flour, use brown rice flour instead. You see, brown rice flour is of a finer grain compared to white rice flour. Of course, superfine rice flours are even finer, but standard ground brown rice is less expensive and works perfectly. You just need to simmer the sauce a little longer, about 5 minutes once you add brown rice flour. You will find that using rice flour to thicken gravy and sauces is your best choice and will last the longest up against reheating. However, you will lose most of the thickness of gravies once frozen and defrosted.

All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour: If you only have all-purpose gluten free flour to work with, be sure to use one that contains gum such as xanthan or guar. Gums hold up well upon reheating.


How Much Flour to Use

The amount of flour needed in your recipe will depend upon the flour you use. Some gluten free all-purpose flour contains different ratios of flour to starch and varies in their amounts of gum, when present. The ingredients in your sauce will also have an impact on the amount of flour you will use. If you have a lot of onion that has cooked down in your dish, that will make the sauce thick. So, you may need less flour.


Potato Flour (Not Potato Starch)

You may notice that a few brands of taco seasoning mixes contain potato flour. This works well as a thickener in Mexican sauces such as burrito or taco sauce and holds up well.


Natural Ingredients

If you choose to thicken your gravy with pureed or cooked vegetables, saute plenty of onion, celery, garlic, bell peppers, or other vegetables. Then add your liquid. Using a handheld blender or countertop blender, puree cooled sauces in small batches.

Ingredients such as potatoes and rice thicken sauces naturally when they break down. If you are cooking chili, just smash some of the beans to thicken the sauce. The thicker you desire your dish, the more beans you will need to smash. The onions in the chili also help to thicken.



You can also combine cream with egg yolk and use this mixture to thicken sauces. This is called a liaison. Once you combine the egg yolks with the cream, you add some of your warm liquid to the egg-cream mixture while whisking constantly. This is called tempering the eggs. This prevents the eggs from scrambling, which would occur if you added the entire egg-cream mixture at once to very hot liquid.

Once you temper the mixture, you add it all back into the hot liquid a little at a time, while constantly whisking. Simmer until the entire mixture thickens. Do not overheat or you still may scramble/curdle the egg yolks. Heating to no higher than 185⁰F is adequate. This method is much like making pudding or custard.

The standard portions are 1-1/4 parts egg yolk to 4 parts cream.



Before going gluten free, if you used cornstarch to thicken gravy and sauces, you can continue this method. However, you now have additional choices that hold up longer. Starches have their use in certain sauces though. There is nothing better than starch (potato starch, arrowroot powder, tapioca flour/starch, or cornstarch) added to a sauce to create a shine. You just combine cold liquid with the starch to create a slurry. Then slowly add the slurry to hot, simmering liquid. Tapioca flour/starch works especially well in Asian dishes because it is sweet and creates a sheen. Barbecue sauces also work well when thickened with starch. The one thing nice about making a starch-thickened sauce is that it doesn’t need 5 minutes to absorb the liquid. Starch almost instantly creates a shiny, thick sauce.

Note that arrowroot does not gel upon cooling while cornstarch does. They both thicken about the same though.



Something you may not have tried yet is to thicken sauces with gum such as xanthan or guar gum. Gums do not thin once reheated. To use gum to thicken sauces, combine 1 teaspoon gum with 2 teaspoons of cooking oil and slowly add some to your broth. Add an additional slurry of gum and oil, if more thickening is required. As usual, be sure to bring your broth to a boil before adding the slurry of gum and oil. You will find that many gluten and gluten free products such as salad dressing contain gums as a thickener. While you will see other gums in products, xanthan and guar gum are the most readily available.



Here is a list of just some of the additions you can add to sauces to add flavor:

Port wine for a sweet yet savory sauce, citrus zest, jelly, truffle oil, bacon grease, fresh herbs, dry herbs, peppercorns, sugar, honey, fish sauce, hot chili oil, gluten free tamari or soy sauce, gluten free hoisin sauce, and more.


Thickening Sauces Naturally

If you are seeking ways to avoid the use of highly-processed starches and high-carbohydrate flours, try a few of these natural alternatives to thicken your sauces and gravies. These tips are especially useful when you are cooking for someone gluten-free while in a gluten kitchen. These solutions do not call for any special gluten-free ingredients.

Instead of using gluten-free flour or starch to thicken gravy, consider using food already in the dishes you are making. Sautéed vegetables such as onion, celery, carrots, and garlic naturally thicken gravy when you cook them until they are super soft or they naturally break down as in ­­mirepoix (above). They also add a lot of flavor to sauces. Vegetables high in carbohydrates such as corn and green beans also help thicken a sauce.

If your plan is to serve your gravy over rice or pasta, consider adding some rice or pasta to the gravy and allow it to break down to naturally thicken the sauce. You can later puree the sauce along with a handheld immersion blender, countertop blender, or food processor. You do not need to puree broth for soup unless you wish to make a creamy soup.

When making soup, legumes such as beans and lentils naturally thicken the broth. Just smash the cooked legumes against the side of the saucepan to thicken more as needed. You can even add legumes to gravy and puree if you’d like.

For rich and creamy sauces, add milk or cream. Cream and higher-fat dairy products are less likely to curdle. You may have learned this when trying to make Potatoes au Gratin using low-fat or non-fat milk. Too high of a temperature may curdle milk. However, using a small amount usually is not a problem. The higher the fat content, the less the curdling possibility.

Reducing broth also helps to thicken it. Just cook the mixture until some of the water evaporates.


General Instructions for Thickening Sauces Naturally

Sauté vegetables in water or fat until tender. Add broth and herbs and simmer until flavorful. If using a sachet, remove it once the broth reaches your desired flavor. Add additional ingredients such as pasta and legumes, if using, and cook until softened. If desired, puree the sauce. If not, remove from heat and add milk or cream, if using. Heat thoroughly before serving.


Cutting Back on Fat and Oil

When you sauté onions and other vegetables in fat, it adds flavor. Pork fat or bacon drippings add the most flavor. However, when you desire to cut back on fat, omit the oil, shortening, or animal fat. Instead, sauté vegetables in a little water or broth. If you usually use butter, you can cut back on the amount you add by using a healthy oil instead, such as coconut, avocado, or olive oil.


Smoke Points of Oil

Each cooking oil has a maximum temperature that it can withstand before it begins to smoke and cause carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). Coconut oil that is refined has a smoke point of 450⁰F where expeller pressed is only 350⁰F.  Extra virgin olive oil can only withstand temps as high as 320 – 374⁰F, but more refined olive oil such as Kirkland’s Extra-Light Olive Oil is closer to 390-470°F. Refined avocado oil is gaining in popularity with its 520°F smoke point, making it perfect for deep-frying. However, clarified butter comes in at a whopping 485⁰F also making it pretty ideal.

Learn more about Smoke Points of Oil at Wikipedia. 

Note that medium heat on a stovetop is considered to be 350⁰F. 


Avocado oil has a higher smoke point1, but olive oil works well for sautéing due to the low heat used.


Adding Flavor

There are ample alternatives to salt to flavor gravy. Using fresh or dried herbs add lots of flavor. Fresh herbs add more than dried. Add some minced or grated garlic to all savory gravy recipes. When added in the correct amounts, you will not create a noticeable garlic flavor.

For sauces and gravy that you do not wish to see herbs, create a sachet of herbs. Then, remove once the sauce is complete.


Adding Color

Rather than using commercial gravy darkening sauces such as Gravy Master and Kitchen Bouquet, which are both gluten free, sauté onion or other vegetables in butter or oil on higher heat until brown instead. Then add your broth. The color of your gravy will darken naturally.

For colors other than brown, seasonings or vegetables can add additional colors. Beets naturally create a purple color, the seasoning turmeric creates a yellow color, and tomato puree creates red.



Whether you make roux, slurry, or thicken naturally, you now have the knowledge to create amazing textured and flavored sauces. Remember to always add cold to hot and hot to cold. Also, remember to simmer roux long enough with the butter to allow the flour particles to be coated with the butter and soften.


Did you know?

You can freeze a batch of roux in ice trays and defrost as many as you need to whip up a sauce in no time.



Now it’s time to apply what you’ve learned.

Think of three sauces that you have made in the past and recognize which of the mother sauces they may best fit under. If you haven’t ever made any sauces, take a look through the Gluten Free Sauce Recipes category (68) and choose three of them to look over. It can also be any of the above sauce recipes to which I have linked.

Choose one sauce recipe from the Gluten Free Sauce Recipes category or elsewhere using gluten free ingredients. You can also make up your own sauce recipe using the above information.

Take a photo of the sauce, provide a brief description, and send it all to Carla at (559) 676-5031 or [email protected]



  1. Smoke Point: Each oil has a maximum temperature that it can withstand before it begins to smoke and create carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). Learn more about Smoke Points of Oil at Wikipedia. Medium heat on a stovetop is considered to be 350⁰F.