Facing the challenge of preparing a gluten free meal for the first time? Here is a thorough guide to preparing a meal for your gluten free friend or family member.
The first step
The gluten free shop
Knowing which products to beware of takes quite a while to perfect but some smart shopping can help put you a step ahead in the preparation for cooking a gluten free meal when you are new to it.
- The obvious gluten containing products such as bread, pasta, couscous, beer, biscuits, cake etc. In short anything derived from wheat, barely, rye or oats.
- Worcestershire, soy and oyster sauces all contain gluten unless you buy specific gluten free brands or versions.
Check, double check, triple check
- When buying condiments, sauces, spreads, spices and stock be vigilant. Many of these things contain wheat starch to thicken or add bulk to them. Gravy, mayonnaise and salad dressings should be checked closely.
- Cured meats and small goods can sometimes harbour gluten, at the deli section as them to bring you the packaging so you can make sure the ingredients are gluten free.
- Anything packaged can be prepared on equipment that also processes gluten, this has to be declared but make sure you check packaging accordingly, this could include nuts, dried fruit, chips, chocolate and many other foods.
- Lollies are more often than not made with wheat starch.
- There is cornflour and then there is ‘cornflour’. You would have thought from the name it would be made from corn but some varieties are actually wheaten cornflour, meaning it behaves like cornflour but is made from wheat, read here for more info.
- Use pure icing sugar, some icing sugar mixes are thickened with cornflour (wheaten).
- ‘Wheat free’ and ‘flourless’ don’t always mean gluten free.
If there is a favourite dish you have in mind you can tweak it to be gluten free. Think about using alternative flours or buying a pre-mixed gluten free flour blend, almond meal has many uses in gluten free cooking too. Polenta is a great alternative for couscous, as is quinoa which is yummy in salads.
Gluten free preparation
The shop is complete and all ingredients are gluten free, now to the kitchen! The biggest challenge, unless you are doing a 100% gluten free meal, is avoiding cross-contamination in the kitchen or during serving.
Here is a step by step list of tips to ensure you avoid accidentally serving your guest even the tiniest bit of gluten (which will be enough to make them unwell).
- It is good practice to prepare the gluten free meal separately and first if possible.
- Thoroughly wipe all preparation surfaces, equipment that might have been used in conjunction with gluten and chopping boards.
- Use clean utensils (for stirring, straining, tasting, serving), pots and pans, serving dishes and tea towels.
- You cannot toast gluten free bread in a normal toaster, either grill it in the oven on a clean tray (or tin foil/baking paper) or buy toaster bags to use in the toaster.
- Use fresh condiments, anything that might have had a knife with a breadcrumb or any other gluten containing food in it. Butter, mustard, spreads and mayonnaise are good examples of this.
- Gluten free food cannot be fried in oil that has come into contact with gluten, for example beer batter fish having been cooked in the oil before frying the gluten free battered fish.
- If serving a platter of any type ensure it is free from any gluten. For example if you have a cheese plate with gluten free crackers on it and then on the side a bowl of normal biscuits, as soon as someone has used the cheese knife to place cheese on their normal biscuit the knife will have been contaminated and the cheese will be as well the next time the knife is used.
- If you are in any doubt at all ask your guest, they would rather you check.
- It gets easier, once you have mastered it the first time gluten free meals will be simple.