Tips on how to thicken soups, stews and sauces

 

Bowl of tomato and onion soup with poached eggs and crusty bread from Madeira Island Portugal

ROUX

Generally for a roux: to thicken 1 cup (8 oz / 250 ml) of liquid such as milk or broth you need:

  1. Thin sauce: 1 tablespoon of flour / 1 tablespoon of butter.
  2. Medium sauce: 2 tablespoons of flour / 2 tablespoons of butter.
  3. Thick sauce: 3 tablespoons of flour / 3 tablespoons of butter

Choose a fat to use.

A roux is another French word that describes the paste created by cooking fat with equal parts flour. The recommended fats are oil, butter, extra virgin olive oil, or drippings. A roux can be used to thicken gravies, savory sauces, stews, or soups.

  1. Place fat into a sauce pan over medium heat. Depending on how thick you want your sauce, use between one and three tablespoons of fat plus equal amounts of flour per cup of liquid. 
  2.  For a basic  roux  cook the flour and fat together for a few minutes, until they are fully incorporated.
  3. Whisk the roux (it can be used cold, warm, or hot) into the sauce/soup- bring to a simmer and cook for at least 10 minutes to cook off any remaining flour taste
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Cornstach

Cornstarch is the most common starch used for thickening, but you can also use potato starch, arrowroot flour, tapioca flour, or rice flour. When combined with liquids and heated, these starches swell and form a thickening gel.

A general rule of thumb to substitute cornstarch for flour: 2 tablespoons wheat flour = 1 tablespoon cornstarch. For a medium consistency sauce, add 1 TBSP Cornstarch mixed with 1 TBSP of water or milk.

Whisk in equal parts cold water. For every tablespoon of starch you added, add one tablespoon of cold water to the starch. Whisk until there are no lumps and the starch is fully incorporated.

Whisk the slurry into your sauce. Pour the starch slurry slowly into the sauce you want to thicken, whisking constantly to incorporate the slurry into the sauce.

After you add the slurry, cook the sauce for about 4 or 5 minutes so that the starch granules completely gelatinize.

Bring to a simmer. To release the starch molecules, you must heat the sauce to a simmer, otherwise the starch won’t thicken.

Large pot of beef Stew

Reducing Liquids

Bring your sauce to a simmer. .This method works well with most sauces, because as a sauce heats up, the water will evaporate, leaving a thicker and more concentrated sauce behind.

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Gelatin

Powdered, unflavored gelatin is tasteless and virtually colorless and derived from animal collagen. It can be used as a thickening agent for savory sauces, like a demi-glace, or in a sweet berry sauce. Gelatin  thickens as it cools, in contrast to starch thickeners, like flour or cornstarch, which thicken when heated.

In fact, just about any recipe that calls for canned broth will likely benefit from the addition of gelatin. About 2 teaspoons of gelatin per cup of broth thickens sauces and braises appropriately, and adds a rich mouth feel.

Here’s how to incorporate it:

Step 1

Add about 2 tablespoons of cold water to a small bowl. Measure out the powdered gelatin. Use 2 teaspoons of gelatin for every 1 cup of sauce liquid for thin sauce, and up to 4 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin per 1 cup for thick sauce. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the surface of the water.

Step 2

Whisk the gelatin and water together. Allow the gelatin and water mixture to sit for a few minutes to hydrate the gelatin powder.

Step 3

Pour the mixture into a simmering pot sauce. Stir the sauce for about one minute to integrate the gelatin with the sauce. Do not allow the sauce to boil after you’ve added the gelatin.

Step 4

Remove the pot of sauce from heat. Allow the sauce to cool at room temperature until it begins to thicken slightly, then serve warm.

Using gelatin to set cold liquid.

  • One tablespoon of gelatin will set two cups of liquid when chilled.
  • One package of powdered gelatin is roughly equal to one tablespoon.
  • Four sheets of gelatin equals one tablespoon of powdered gelatin.
  • If a recipe says to “bloom” the gelatin, that means to hydrate it in a small amount of water.
Portuguese Quiche, in pie pan with Portuguese rooster in foreground and pie weight box in background

Using egg yolks to thicken sauces and soups

To thicken sauces and prevent an unwanted scramble, it’s crucial that you temper the yolk mixture. 

Simply put, tempering means you bring the egg yolks slowly up to the temperature of the liquid you’re mixing it with. If the temperature increases too quickly, the proteins in the yolks link up to make scrambled eggs. When using a yokes to thicken a sauce or soup it is usually done at the very end of the cooking process. Because after you taken with a yokes you do not want to bring your sauce or soup to a boil.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Crack and beat your yolks in a bowl. (about 1 egg yolk to thicken 1-2 cups of liquid you want to thicken)
  2. Grab a ladle of the your sauce and slowly dribble it into the egg yolk, while whisking.
  3. Add this mixture slowly back into your pot or pan to finish thickening the sauce, stirring while you pour. This relies on the principle that egg yolks thicken when heated to between 149°F and 158°F. Tip: If the sauce is at a boil, it’ll curdle, so be sure to lower the heat.  As the sauce is heated, do not exceed temperatures above 185°F to 195°F.

 I used this technique for my Canja Portuguese Chicken Soup Recipe. Check out the video for more details.

blender

Puree some of the ingredients

If you’re making a soup for example remove a few cups of the soup put it inside a blender and purée then add the purée back into the soup. (usually it’s preferable  not to purée soups or sauces that have meat, fish, or chicken). So you can purée the soup before the addition of protein or you could remove some of the starchy vegetables or potatoes or rice, then purée and add back into the soup.

Another technique is to open up a can of White beans, put the beans in the blender purée and slowly whisk in the puréed beans back into the super sauce. A little bit at a time until you reach the desired thickness.

 

xanthan gum

How to Thicken With Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a flavorless thickener used in many foods

No heating or cooling is needed for xanthan gum to form a gel—it does so as soon as it is in contact with a liquid. Acid and heat don’t affect it, so it can be used in a wide variety of sauces and juices.

To use xanthan gum in recipes, use about 1/8 teaspoon per cup of liquid and combine these in a blender, not by hand. It will “gum” almost instantly and form clumps if not constantly in motion while it is being incorporated into the liquid.

HOW TO ADD IT

Xanthan gum has a tendency to clump when it comes in contact with liquids; here’s how we ensure even incorporation.

With blender on high speed, create vortex in middle of liquid.

Sprinkle and Blend: Slowly sprinkle xanthan gum over vortex (3/8 teaspoon per 2 cups of gravy or sauce allowing it to be sucked down into blade of blender for at least 30 seconds to thoroughly combine.