edit: January 12, 2014. While writing the weekly newsletter I realized I missed my favorite technique and had to add a 6th technique (this was labelled as ‘5 ways to thicken’ previously). It’s the last item on the list.
We’ve all been there: dinner is cooking, the house is smelling great and you’re getting excited for dinner but you’re worried that a soup or sauce isn’t thick enough.
Here’s 6 ways to thicken soup or gravy (and the advantages of each):
Simmer your sauce/ gravy for longer. It will become naturally thicker (though you may lose a lot of volume and be left with a smaller amount of liquid than desired)
Advantages: Flavors stay in tact and can be gluten-free (the next two options aren’t)
Disadvantages: It takes time and the final product may drastically reduce before thickening (for example, it takes liters of tomato sauce to make a small amount of tomato paste; by the time 2 liters of soup are as thick as you want you may not have enough soup to serve!)
Mix equal parts flour and butter (2-3 tablespoons of each are generally enough for a large soup or typical gravy), cook in a pan until slightly brown. Remove the mixture from the heat, add a bit of liquid and stir until consistent. Keep adding liquid a bit at a time until it’s all incorporated. Bring to a simmer/ boil (it won’t thicken if you don’t).
Advantages: Consistent results.
Disadvantages: This takes time (and is usually done at the start of making a soup or gravy) and can take 10-20 minutes from start to finish. It can be a little tricky; if you add too much liquid at once you’ll need to stir for a long time to remove lumps. Introduces flour (a disadvantage if you’re gluten-intolerant), increases calories of dish.
- Beurre Maine
This is similar to a roux (without cooking). Equal parts flour and soft butter are made into a paste/ dough. Mixing the butter prevents lumping so this can be added directly to the liquid (as opposed to the other way around) before bringing it to a boil to thicken.
Advantages: Easy to do, quick.
Disadvantages: Introduces flour (a disadvantage if you’re gluten-intolerant), increases calories of dish.
- Corn Starch
Mix tablespoon of corn starch with room temperature water in a cup. Add a bit of hot liquid to the cup and stir to incorporate. Continue to do so to raise the temperature of the liquid in the cup (this avoids clumping). Once warm, add some of the corn starch slurry to your liquid and bring to a simmer (add more if needed after)
Advantages: Easy to do, quick.
Disadvantages: A\Can change the color and, for many, it can be difficult to find GMO-free corn starch (though some may not see that as a disadvantage)
- Mashed Potatoes/ Mirepoix
Add mashed potatoes or purred cooked vegetables (if you make your own stock and use onions, carrots and celery you can freeze these solids and use them to thicken soup later). I like to put the vegetables in the blender with a small amount of liquid from the soup and blend into a smooth paste and add as much as I need to my soup.
Advantages: Changes texture without adding significant calories or flour. Rarely changes taste significantly.
Disadvantages: Can alter the color and you need to have cooked vegetables on-hand.
- Vegetable Powders (such as mushroom)
Add dried vegetables to a soup or gravy and you’ll find that it will thicken quickly. The dried food will absorb the thinnest liquids and quickly thicken your liquid while adding flavor.
Advantages: Easy to do, quick, gluten and (nearly) calorie-free. This is often my favorite method.
Disadvantages: Can change the flavor, must plan ahead (as it’s not necessarily a common ingredient) and can change the consistency of sauce if the powder isn’t fine (i.e. a lot of onion flakes can change the texture of a soup)
How do you thicken soup or gravy?