Even the greatest of us have experienced this: Despite your meticulous attention to detail, the dish didn’t come out as you had hoped. A gravy should have enough thickness to coat the back of a spoon, right? Why shouldn’t Alfredo sauce adhere to the pasta strands’ sides?
Professional recipe developers (like the people in our Test Kitchen) make an effort to foresee everything, but occasionally extraneous variables interfere. Perhaps you like your gravy a little thicker than they do, or perhaps the humidity level in your kitchen hindered the flour’s ability to thicken things up.
Use these techniques to easily mend sloppy, thin soups and underwhelming gravies.
Adding flour is a great technique to thicken dairy-based sauces, thick soups, and gravies if avoiding gluten is not an issue. My preferred technique is to prepare a roux (a mixture of all-purpose flour and fat in equal parts) and whisk in 2 ounces for each cup of liquid. You won’t have to worry about your family getting sick or the food tasting like raw flour because the flour is already cooked throughout the roux-making procedure.
As an alternative, you can mix some water right into the uncooked flour; use roughly 2 tablespoons for every cup of liquid in your recipe. When the sauce has thickened and the flavor of the flour has been cooked off, whisk the slurry into the pot and simmer it for a few minutes.
The next thickening is preferable if you need to keep clarity while increasing viscosity because flour will obscure your sauce.
Cornstarch or arrowroot
The gluten-free alternatives to thickening with flour are cornstarch and arrowroot. Additionally, they’ll keep the sauce pure and free of clouds. In the recipe, 1 tablespoon is required for every cup of liquid. Cornstarch and water are combined to make a slurry, which is then added to the saucepan. Until the cornstarch is thoroughly integrated and the sauce begins to thicken, whisk continuously over high heat. (Find out when it’s okay to eat cornstarch.)
What makes the two different from one another? In a nutshell, arrowroot freezes better than cornstarch and is naturally free of GMOs. However, it does turn slimy when mixed with dairy, so avoid using it as a gravy thickening.
The beginning of the preparation is the ideal moment to add tomato paste. When heated, the sugars caramelize and the essential oils are released, but you may whisk it in at the end to help tomato-based soups and sauces bind. It can also be used to brown sauces or beef stews, though we wouldn’t suggest it for dairy-based sauces because it gives a splash of color and tomato flavor.
Reduce the liquid
Reducing the liquid is a fantastic method to thicken things up if you have a lot of additional time. The other flavors will concentrate when the liquid evaporates, which may or may not be a good thing. You might transfer some of the sauce to a large saute pan to speed up the process because boiling a large stockpot of sauce can take some time. When it’s nice and thick, simply stir it back into the main pot.
Swirl in a pat of butter
If you’re almost there but not quite, this technique will give you an extra boost even if it won’t add much thickness. Just be sure to incorporate the butter into your sauce right before serving. High heat will cause the butter-infused sauce to crack, undermining the purpose of its thickening ability.
Add an egg yolk
Egg yolks are a traditional method for thickening custards and salad dressings, but they also excel at thickening rich cream sauces. Place the egg yolk in a bowl and gradually whisk in about a cup of the hot sauce to prevent the egg from scrambling. Then, while whisking constantly, pour the tempered yolk mixture into the saucepan.
Puree some vegetables
When pureed, starchy vegetables like potatoes, winter squash, or celeriac make great thickening agents. These vegetables can be easily roasted, boiled, and then processed in a food processor until smooth. The sauce will rapidly thicken once you whisk it into it. You may also include cooked beans or lentils of any kind, steamed and mashed cauliflower, or other vegetables, but keep in mind that the latter would give the dish more flavor.
You could also be able to purée half or more of your soup or sauce to thicken it up, depending on the type of recipe you’re cooking. It would thicken things up without adding any additional ingredients, but it would also lessen the dish’s lumpy consistency.
Try these fixes the next time your sauce seems a little thin. You’ll undoubtedly discover one that suits your recipe.
Reduce the Sauce Via Simmering
Boiling some of the liquid out of your sauce is by far the simplest technique to thicken it. Allow the sauce to simmer for a further five to twenty minutes on low heat. You prevent burning, make sure to watch it carefully and stir it constantly. If you have the extra time, this method is an excellent choice because it doesn’t change your recipe in any way.
Add Tomato Sauce
Increase the amount of solids in your sauce to counteract any surplus liquid. Although tomato sauce is not a solid substance by itself, the thickness will still be apparent in the sauce. It’s a simple addition that will only improve the flavor of the sauce if you have more tomato sauce on hand. Additionally, you might simply make more sauce than you intended, but it freezes nicely, so it won’t go to waste.
Add Cornstarch Slurry
The simplest approach to thicken your sauce without affecting the flavor is with a cornstarch slurry. Combine one part cornstarch with one part water to create the slurry. You should add the slurry gradually and in stages, just like you would with any of these thickening agents. Every time you add a little, stir it in before deciding whether you want to add more.
Add a Roux
To make a roux, combine equal amounts of flour and fat. Butter is typically used, however oil can also be. It serves as the popular foundation for many creamy sauces since it immediately produces a good thickness. A Roux is a terrific alternative for a richer sauce because it gives your sauce a bit creaminess rather than simply plain flouriness. If you want to keep your kitchen cleanup to a minimum, keep in mind that you must heat it up in a different pan before adding it to your sauce.
How much time does a sauce need to thicken?
Strong thickeners include cornstarch and other starches like arrowroot or tapioca. A modest amount added to a sauce can rapidly and readily alter the dish’s consistency. Do keep in mind that acid (lemon juice, tomato sauces, etc.) reduces cornstarch’s ability to thicken, so in those situations you should think about an alternative.
Try the following steps to thicken something with cornstarch:
- Create a cornstarch slurry by whisking equal parts of cornstarch and cold liquid in a small bowl until combined. This process aids in avoiding any clumping.
- Add the cornstarch slurry to the sauce and bring it to a boil while whisking continuously until the cornstarch is completely incorporated. Boil the mixture for 1 to 2 minutes, or until it has thickened. Keep in mind that cornstarch must boil in order to thicken properly.
- After thickening, don’t keep boiling. The cornstarch will thin out once it has been boiled after the few extra minutes required to thicken the sauce.
You may always add a tiny bit of the slurry at a time to the liquid and modify as necessary if you’re unsure of how much thickening to use. For a thinner sauce, ArgoStarch advises using 1 tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of liquid, and for a gravy-like consistency, 2 teaspoons of cornstarch per cup of liquid.
This approach works well for:
- meals that are stir-fried, notably in Chinese cuisine
Why do sauces become more thick when they cool?
We can thicken soups, sauces, and puddings to the desired consistency with just a few teaspoons of any starch. Right before our eyes, they transform from loose and watery to thick and creamy! How does what’s happening in your pan work?
Each each starch grain absorbs water (or other cooking liquid) to function. The finished dish’s thickness depends on how much liquid the particular starch can absorb and how concentrated the starch granules are in the liquid. Starches have the potential to fully transform a liquid into a block of gelatinous consistency!
To get the liquid to thicken, however, merely swirling the starch and liquid together is insufficient. Actually, heat acts as the catalyst. Without it, the starch grains will not absorb enough liquid to thicken and will instead simply sink to the bottom.
The liquid’s molecules start to move around quite quickly as it warms. These molecules collide with the starch grains, sufficiently upsetting their structure that the granules begin to absorb water. The solution balances out at a certain point during heating when the starch grains are largely intact but have absorbed all the liquid they can.
The starch will be excessively disrupted by further heating, and the grains will actually lose their capacity to absorb water and thicken a sauce. This is what happens when a meal is cooked for an extended period of time or if the heat is left on after it reaches a boil. Fortunately, you may add extra starch or beurre manie at the end of cooking to temper in more starch to re-thicken your soup or sauce.
You may have also seen that foods thickened with starch will thicken considerably more after they have cooled and come off the burner. This occurs because the starch would form a stable structure with water trapped between it if there were no frequent disruption from the molecules’ motion. The sauce can be gently heated again to achieve its original thickness.
The following week, we’ll go into greater detail regarding the various starches we can employ to thicken food and when we would prefer to do so. Remain tuned!
How can a too-watery sauce be thickened?
Flour is the most widely accessible sauce thickening. Try adding a beurre manie (equal parts softened butter and flour, kneaded together to produce a paste) or a slurry (equal parts flour and water, whisked together) to a too-thin sauce. Both are excellent thickeners for rich and creamy sauces, such as steak sauce recipes. (We also employ this technique to thicken stew!) Two tablespoons of flour should be used for every cup of liquid as a basic rule of thumb. Start by adding a small amount, then heat it while stirring for a few minutes to give the sauce time to thicken and cook off the taste of raw flour; if the results are insufficient, add more. Another flour-based thickener is a roux, which is equal parts flour and butter whisked and cooked together over heat. However, roux is typically used as a building block in the early stages of sauce-making, so if your sauce is already prepared, it’s not a fantastic cure.
Why isn’t my sauce becoming thicker?
Why it functions: There’s an excellent reason why corn starch is frequently used to thicken sauce: It thickens very well, even in tiny amounts, and is readily accessible, affordable, and flavorless. When heated, it also produces a transparent mixture, which is one reason it is occasionally chosen over flour. A form of carbohydrate derived from maize kernels is called corn starch. It becomes thick and gelatinous when combined with a liquid and heated.
Use around one tablespoon of corn starch per cup of sauce to thicken it. To avoid clumping when adding the corn starch to the spicy sauce, first make a slurry by whisking it into an equivalent amount of cold water. Slowly pour the slurry into the sauce while mixing it on medium heat. Keep whisking while you bring the sauce to a boil for one minute. This is essential because heat activates the corn starch, which won’t thicken correctly if you don’t cook it for long enough.
When to use it: A fantastic choice for thickening clear sauces is corn starch (like stock- or soy-based sauces). If there is any acid present, avoid using it because it disintegrates. Additionally, it works well as a thickening in custard, pudding, and baking preparations.
How can you know if a sauce is sufficiently thick?
What precisely does it imply when a recipe instructs you to cook something until the back of a spoon can easily slide through it? I assume there is a specific thickness I should be looking for because even if I dip a spoon into broth, it will become coated in broth. How can I tell when I’ve arrived?
When a recipe specifies that the mixture should be “thick enough to coat the back of a spoon,” it means that it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and hold a line when your finger is drawn through it.
To test, dip the spoon into the mixture, hold it horizontally with the back facing up, and then trace your finger along the spoon to make a trail through the mixture. The mixture isn’t thick enough if the path begins to fill in. It is prepared if it remains placed.
There are a few easy ways to thicken a sauce or stew if you make it and find that it’s thinner than you’d like.
You can first decrease it by continuing to heat it until additional water evaporates and the mixture becomes more concentrated. When you want a concentrated taste, such in pan sauces, this is a good choice. However, it isn’t really feasible for items that are already highly flavorful or would burn during the process.
You can either make a beurre mani or a slurry for those kinds of recipes. Beurre mani, which translates to “handled butter” in French, is a paste made from softened butter and flour. Similar to a roux, but not cooked. Simply blend them (start small, with a tablespoon of each) before stirring them into the meal. The butter adds richness and a velvety tongue feel to the dish while assisting the flour in blending in without creating any lumps. For the flour to function properly and to completely cook out the taste of raw flour, the dish should be cooked for a few minutes.
Make a slurry by combining cornstarch with liquid if you don’t want to or need to add more fat to the meal. As long as there is enough liquid to completely cover the cornstarch and prevent lumps from forming when it is added to the dish, you don’t need to be exact about the amount. Water, broth, or even a small amount of the substance you’re trying to thicken can be used.
Remember that flour and cornstarch behave slightly differently. You don’t need to use as much cornstarch because it has a thickening power that is roughly twice as great as flour. Additionally, combinations thickened with cornstarch appear more translucent than those made with flour (consider stir-fry sauces) (think gravy).
The last point is that cornstarch can be a little tricky. Mixtures thickened with cornstarch will thin out and turn watery if they are overcooked, boiled more than once, or briskly whipped for an extended period of time.