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When making a lemon dill sauce will limited ingredients due to Lenten restrictions, we found the sauce broke after simmering. The sauce was vegetable stock with lemon juice then thickened with a roux of margarine and flour. All was well for 10 minutes at a low simmer when suddenly it broke. Did the lemon break the gluten? Did the simmering cause the breakage? Was the margarine the cause?

  • I'm curious, what does it mean to say that a sauce "broke"? – starsplusplus Apr 17 '14 at 8:45
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There is no way to be certain, but I would blame the margarine.

Margarine is not pure fat like an oil, nor a simple fat-water emulsion like butter. It is a rather unstable emulsion, and it uses all kinds of industrial tricks to achieve a smooth, soft, spreadable consistency. It is not just emulsified, it generally contains all kinds of gums too. This is especially pronounced in reduced-fat margarine products.

You shouldn't heat margarine, as you never know how it will behave under heat. It is a bit less of a problem in baking, if you are willing to accept large differences in texture; but as you noticed, it can be very problematic in foods where the correct texture has low tolerance.

If you want to reduce your butter consumption but still make roux-based sauces, use any liquid oil. You can use a cheap vegetable oil for strongly flavored sauces, or an oil with its own taste for milder sauces which can profit from more flavor.

The ratio of fat to starch in a roux is not very tolerant to fat reduction. You should always use at least 1:1 fat to flour. A little deviation (such as using 1:1 butter to flour, which makes it 0.83 fat to 1 part flour) will still work, although it is recommended to up the fat a bit when using butter. But you cannot reduce the fat in a roux-based sauce by choosing a fat-reduced product (assuming you could find a gum-free one) instead of fat and keeping the overall ratio the same. So, if you are looking to reduce your total fat consumption during Lenten and the use of 1:1 oil to flour ratio is not acceptable to you, you will have to do it by some other means.

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    Rumtscho, actually in the US at least, margarine is a fat-water emulsion, just like butter. The fat phase is (partially) hydrogenated vegetable oil, and the water is added. The water percentage approximates that of butter. accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/… Low fat margerine products are more likely to have more water. – SAJ14SAJ Apr 16 '14 at 12:20
  • The following are the ingredients in Land O Lakes margerine (a typical national brand here, ironically, a consortium of dairy producers): Ingredients: SOYBEAN OIL, PALM OIL, WATER, BUTTERMILK, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, SOY LECITHIN, POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE), MONOGLYCERIDES (EMULSIFIER), LACTIC ACID, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, BETA CAROTENE (COLOR). – SAJ14SAJ Apr 16 '14 at 12:30
  • @SAJ14SAJ your comments show exactly what I am trying to say. Emulsifiers are allowed in margarine per FDA regulation, and the ingredients list you posted contains two different ones. Other brands use gums instead of lecithin, and they behave funny when heated. – rumtscho Apr 16 '14 at 12:32
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    @SAJ14SAJ I think these people are allowed to buy vegetable oil too. If they aren't, they may have to give up on making roux-based sauces (or live with a very high risk of splitting). – rumtscho Apr 16 '14 at 12:39
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    @SAJ14SAJ I just re-read my answer and noticed that I had written literally that margarine is not an emulsion; now I know why you protested. Changed that to say that it is not a simple emulsion, and that it is rather unstable and therefore chock full of stabilizers. – rumtscho Apr 16 '14 at 12:41

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