Introduced in the early 1960s, Wondra is the brand name for a type of instant flour that has been steamed and dried – a process called pre-gelatinization – before being packaged and sold. The process essentially pre-cooks it, resulting in a super-fine powder that easily dissolves in liquids.
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“I love it,” said chef and cookbook author Adrienne Cheatham while discussing making gravy for smothered chicken. “To sing the pan, [the French term for sprinkling the pan with flour when building a sauce]I use Wondra every time because you never have to worry about lumps.”
What makes instant flour different from all-purpose flour is that it spreads easily and can be sprinkled as is into a liquid to thicken it without the need to make a roux, roux, or slurry. A can of Wondra in your pantry will be a godsend the next time you’re faced with a watery gravy that needs a last-minute salvage.
Aside from sauces, Wondra is great for coating bakeware for easy release. Its fine texture makes it easy to spread evenly in a thin layer on the surface of a pan, meaning less flour is added to a recipe without affecting the result.
Another result of the pregelatinization process is that the flour’s ability to form gluten is reduced, making it behave similarly to low-protein flours such as cake or pastry flour. This means Wondra can be used to create tender, flaky pie crusts, and it makes a crepe batter that doesn’t need to rest, as Julia Child suggests in her seventh cookbook, The Way to Cook. Food writer Allison Robicelli uses it in her recipe for Angel Food Cake, “which is ethereally fluffy, no pleating or fuzz required,” she wrote. However, it’s important to note that it’s more expensive than other flours — Wondra is about twice the price of cake flour and five times the price of all-purpose flour — so I wouldn’t recommend it for recipes that call for flour in large quantities.
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Instant flour is also great for cooking animal protein. “Cooks like to use wondra flour to dust fish and meat,” wrote food writer David Hagedorn in a recipe for veal piccata. “It helps brown evenly and prevents objects from sticking while frying, but it doesn’t impart the stickiness that regular all-purpose flour can have.”
Jacques Pépin calls for Wondra in his garlic chicken breast recipe. And the folks behind Modernist Cuisine use it in conjunction with potato starch in their Korean-style chicken wings recipe for long-lasting crispiness. (They also recommend it as a thickener for creamed spinach.)
Chef Eric Rivera likes to use it to coat “lean and thin fish like sole or thinly sliced fish like ling cod or halibut,” he said. Because these items cook so quickly, “about 30 to 60 seconds on each side,” the fact that the flour is essentially pre-cooked means you don’t have to worry about raw flour, even with the short cooking time.
“It’s great for giving proteins a light, crispy crust because it’s really good at binding the surface liquids with an even coating that you can’t get with raw flour,” Cheatham told BuzzFeed. “The crust is so light it seems like there’s nothing on top of the protein at all. You just end up with a beautiful sear!”
And when it comes to getting a nice roast, Wondra is the secret to great scallops. As former Post Assistant Food Editor Bonnie S. Benwick wrote in 2016, “We were taught never to put a scallop in a pan to very high heat, lest its tender flesh become rubbery and dry-looking cracks rose from the bottom edges.” The new Poole’s: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner (Ten Speed Press, September 2016) has forced me to reconsider that position because chef Ashley Christensen is giving them a dark coat of paint. Only one side is coated with wondra flour, which encourages a brown crust.”