You’ve probably seen it stashed on the bottom shelf of the flour section in your local grocery store. If you didn’t know better, you might think it was instant gravy powder or a cleaning product — but what lives within the retro packaging is nothing short of a food science miracle.
So what is this miracle ingredient I'm talking about?
Wondra flour: the brand name for what is commonly called instant flour, and the pantry staple I always keep on hand for quick sauces, delicate tempuras, and the crispiest fish skin ever.
So, what exactly is it? And why should you add yet another ingredient to your culinary arsenal? As someone who praises the many wonders of Wondra, let me enlighten you.
Wondra flour was introduced by Gold Medal Flour in the 1960s and marketed as “the quick and easy flour for today’s lifestyle.” Gravy was a popular staple at the dinner table, but for many home cooks, making a perfectly smooth, lump-free gravy was a challenge. Oftentimes the flour would clump together and never fully dissolve, despite valiant whisking efforts. This is where Wondra flour came into play, successfully solving the lumpy gravy crisis once and for all.
To fully understand how Wondra flour was able to save the world from unwanted flour lumps, we must first understand the science behind the flour, so sit tight.
Wondra flour is a low-protein flour that goes through a process called pregelatinization. This process treats the flour with hot steam, dries it out, and mills it into a super-fine powder, essentially precooking it. This results in an ultra-fine flour that instantly dissolves into any liquid — solving the issue of lumpy gravy.
Now that we've gotten the science lesson out of the way, let's talk about what makes Wondra flour a cult-favorite ingredient among professional chefs and food nerds.
Julia Child recommended using instant flour to prepare crepe batter in her seventh cookbook, The Way to Cook, eliminating the need to rest the batter before using it. (Which, if you’re unfamiliar, is what some consider the secret to preparing perfect crepes.) The flour instantly dissolves into the liquid without requiring hours to hydrate, allowing you to prepare delicate crepes within a matter of minutes. For recipes like fritto misto or tempura, in which flour is mixed directly into a cold liquid, Wondra is a godsend and can prevent both lumps and gluten from forming. By not having to whisk the hell out of the mixture to dissolve the flour, you can create a smooth batter without overworking the gluten, thus creating an impossibly delicate coating.
The wonders of Wondra don’t end there. Look into the kitchen of Le Bernardin, New York’s beloved three-Michelin-starred restaurant specializing in seafood, and you’ll see Wondra flour utilized in an entirely different way.
Precious fillets of fish get lightly dredged in Wondra flour before being pan-fried, helping to achieve a crispy golden sear without anyone ever knowing they were coated in flour. “I love Wondra flour,” says Adrienne Cheatham, former executive sous chef of Le Bernardin. “It’s great for creating a light, crisp crust on proteins because it binds the surface liquids really well with an even coating that you can’t achieve by using raw flour. The crust is so light that it seems like there’s nothing on the protein at all. You just end up with a beautiful sear!” Chefs ranging from David Bouley to Sam Fahey-Burke, of Modernist Cuisine, have praised the miracles of Wondra flour, and the innovative product has rightfully earned its spot as a staple in both home kitchens and Michelin-starred institutions.
But don’t start using Wondra flour in everything.
Due to its low protein content and lighter-than-usual texture, it acts more like cake flour than all-purpose flour. You don’t want to waste it on most cooking and baking applications, so keep it on hand for making batters, dredging proteins, and preparing roux-thickened sauces.
The benefits of Wondra flour are endless, and adding it to your pantry is a wise investment. Every time I ask a chef if they’ve heard of Wondra flour, the response is overwhelmingly yes — and they love it. So the next time you spot the retro bottle of Wondra flour sitting on your grocery store’s shelf, give it a try, because once you join the church of Wondra flour, you’re in for life.
Get a two-pack of Wondra flour on Amazon for $11.65.
Lemon and Sage Fritto Misto
Fritto misto (“mixed fried,” in Italian) is a combination of various lightly battered and fried foods, usually including seafood. This version features instant flour (look for Wondra brand) and club soda, both of which help produce an especially light, lump-free batter that requires very little mixing to come together. The result is a crisp, paper-thin, light-as-a-feather coating in every bite.
• 8 cups canola oil, for frying
• 2 cups instant flour (such as Wondra)
• ½ cup cornstarch
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 2 ½ cups club soda (from a new bottle)
• 1 cup loosely packed sage leaves (about 20 leaves)
• 1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded
• 1 fennel bulb, cut into 2-inch sticks, fronds reserved
• ½ pound squid bodies, cleaned and sliced into ½-inch rings
• ½ pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
• ½ pound sea scallops
• Flaky sea salt, for serving
• Aleppo pepper flakes, for serving
Fit a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a deep-fry thermometer and fill with at least 5 inches of oil. Heat over medium heat until thermometer reaches 375°F.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and cayenne pepper. Add club soda and whisk until smooth. (Do not overmix.)
Working in batches, dip sage leaves into batter, allowing excess batter to drip off so only a thin coating remains. Fry, turning once, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate and sprinkle with salt and Aleppo pepper. Repeat dipping and frying process with lemon slices, fennel, squid, shrimp, and scallops, making sure not to overcrowd the pot and seasoning each batch after frying. Depending on the size of your pot, you will need to fry everything in 5 to 7 batches.
Toss all of the fried ingredients together, garnish with reserved fennel fronds, and serve immediately.