How To Make Sauces And Soups Stews Thicker, Heartier
Never make mediocre sauces, soups, and stews ever again.
A thick, rich, and creamy sauce doesn’t just give you that satisfying, silky mouthfeel, but it’s also able to better coat food—like gravy clinging onto chicken—to give you more flavor. If you want to achieve that perfect consistency for your soups or sauces, there are several ways you can do it.
1 Thicken the sauce by reduction
The simplest way to thicken a sauce is through the process of reduction, in which you simply simmer or boil your soup or sauce uncovered until enough water evaporates to achieve the consistency you’re seeking. Any liquid with some fat and seasoning can thicken through reduction. By reduction, you’re able to better texture, intensify taste, and concentrate the aroma.
If you’re reducing something with dairy, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the pot, only simmer it, and to occasionally stir to keep it from sticking to the pot. While keeping your heat low will preserve flavors, it will take a much longer time than simply boiling it. If following a recipe, keep track if it’s asking you to reduce the liquid to a third, a fourth, or half. If going freestyle, simply taste your concoction, (be sure to cool it down before tasting!) and judge for yourself whether it needs more time or is just right.
What’s great about this technique is that it’s easy to adjust if you miscalculate the reduction time. If you’ve gone past the halfway mark, simply “return” the water you evaporated by adding water to your reduced mixture. Then taste and adjust as needed and proceed from there.
2 Use butter and flour
A combination of flour and butter can thicken your soup or sauce. You can either thicken your liquid at the start by making a roux (a cooked butter and flour mixture) or as the finishing step when you drop in “beurre manie” or kneaded flour.
Trust us, beurre manie isn’t as hard as saying its French name. To make it, simply knead together a tablespoon of room temperature butter and a tablespoon flour until well incorporated. Roll into a ball and simply drop into your liquid. Stir constantly until it dissolves, and cook until your soup, stew, or sauce loses the taste of the flour. You can use a food processor or simply, a bowl and a spoon to make ahead several of these thickening balls. Portion into small tablespoon balls and keep in an airtight container. Wait for the ball to soften before adding to your mixture.
3 Make a slurry
Ladle a cup of your hot liquid into a separate bowl, cool it to room temperature, and then dissolve in the flour or chosen starch. How much flour or starch you need, from a tablespoon to a quarter cup, depends on how much liquid you’re thickening. (A good ratio is about 1 tablespoon per 1 cup of liquid.) Stir in your slurry until it starts to thicken and then cook until you get that taste right.
For best results, dissolve these flours in cold water and keep the mixture handy as you cook. As little as a tablespoon can be enough.
4 Use old bread
Your stale bread can thicken soups wonderfully by releasing its starches. Simply tear chunks into your soup and simmer until the bread fully disintegrates.
5 Add cream
Heavy cream or all-purpose cream always does the trick. It may not completely thicken your concoction, but it will always add a milky taste and alters the mouthfeel to creamy.
6 Use egg yolks
If you’re making a custard sauce and you want to thicken it even more, just temper another egg yolk or two! If you’re making a sauce, use a liaison, a mixture made of 3 parts cream and 1 part egg yolk. This will give you a thicker, silkier texture. Then, temper in the egg mixture for the last step, taking care not to boil the liquid and scramble the yolks.
7 Puree it!
If you’ve got chunks of fruits or veggies in your soup or sauce, you can use a blender or an immersion blender to get that thickness without adding a single starch. If you’re looking for a chunky soup, puree just half of your mixture or use a potato masher to make that chunky texture.
8 Go for ground nuts and rice
Kare-kare is thickened using a combination of toasted, ground rice and toasted ground nuts. The nuts are not a good thickener, but it also adds a delicious flavor. That’s what the ground rice is for. It not only adds a little toasted rice flavor, but it also makes a fantastic thickener. Use a mortar and pestle, a blender, or a food processor to process both the nuts and the rice finely. Depending on the taste you’re going for, you can use peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, or pistachios for a fancier kare-kare flavor. Add it at the end of the recipe, and stir as it cooks for a minute or two.
9 Add rice and legumes
Adding a handful of grains of rice or legumes like monggo or garbanzos and simmering it long enough until it disintegrates will give you a thicker soup plus another layer of flavor.
10 Cook with coconut milk
Used to thicken many Filipino dishes, coconut milk (gata) doesn’t just add richness, it also adds a whole new dimension of flavor. The natural fattiness of coconut cream also makes it such a good conduit of flavors. Simply add in and simmer until you get your desired texture.
Sauces can make or break a dish with its flavor. The texture of soup meanwhile can determine whether it’s a satisfying bowl or not. Whichever method you use to make your soup or sauce thicker, there’s nothing like a good, thick stew to make it comforting. Equipped with these different techniques, a hearty and satisfying meal all hinge on getting it to the right texture.