Note: We Want The Sauce is reader supported. If you make a purchase through a link on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission - at no extra cost to you. This includes links to Amazon.

How To Thicken Sauce ⋆ The Definitive Guide ⋆

Staring at a stubbornly thin sauce can dampen any cook’s spirit. But what if every sauce you made was perfectly thick and rich?

Today, I’m here to transform your sauce woes into wins.

We’ll cut through the confusion of thickeners, master the magic of reduction, and unveil the power of purees.

Ready to elevate your sauces from watery to wow?

Let’s begin your journey to becoming a thickening pro.

Thickening a Sauce

How Do You Make A Saucer Thicker?

To thicken a sauce, you can use a suitable thickener, cook it down to evaporate excess liquid, or add pureed vegetables or cream for richness and body.

A Suitable Thickener

Thickening a sauce typically involves incorporating a substance that can absorb and swell with moisture, thus increasing the viscosity of the sauce.

The general process includes:

  • Dissolving: The thickener is usually first dissolved or made into a paste with a small amount of cold water or another compatible cold liquid to prevent clumps.
  • Combining: This mixture is then gradually stirred into the hot sauce, ensuring even distribution throughout.
  • Heating: The sauce must be brought to a gentle simmer; heat activates the thickening properties of most agents.
  • Adjusting: The cook should continuously taste and adjust, as thickeners can dilute the flavor, requiring seasoning adjustments.
  • Finishing: Once the desired thickness is achieved, the sauce should be removed from heat to prevent over-thickening or breaking down the thickening agent.

This process requires attention to detail and timing, as overcooking can lead to thinning out the sauce again or creating an undesirable texture.

When using thickeners, it’s important to add them gradually and stir constantly to avoid lumps.

Also, be aware that some thickeners might affect the flavor or appearance of the sauce.

We’ll look at suitable thickeners in the next section.

Cook It Down to Evaporate Excess Liquid

Reducing a sauce by simmering can naturally thicken it without the need for additional ingredients. The process involves:

  • Simmering: Let the sauce cook uncovered over low heat, allowing water to evaporate. The sauce’s flavor will also concentrate, becoming more pronounced.
  • Stirring: Regular stirring can prevent burning and ensure even reduction.
  • Time: Depending on the amount of liquid, this process can take a while, so it’s best used when you’re not in a rush.

This method is ideal for tomato-based sauces or broths where you also want to intensify the flavor.

Increase The Sauce Richness and Body

Incorporating pureed vegetables or cream can thicken a sauce while adding flavor and richness:

  • Vegetables: Cooked and pureed vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or squash can add body and nutrients to your sauce. They are especially good in soups and meat sauces.
  • Cream: Adding heavy cream, sour cream, or even cream cheese can thicken a sauce and give it a luxurious texture. It’s perfect for creamy pasta sauces or gravies.

What Can I Use To Thicken A Sauce?

You can use use flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, pureed vegetables, cream, egg yolks, cheese, beurre manié, or bread crumbs to thicken a sauce.

Each thickening agent has its own set of best practices and is suited to different types of sauces and desired outcomes.

It’s important to consider the final flavor and texture you’re aiming for when choosing your thickening method.

Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at each one…

Flour

Flour is a traditional thickener for sauces and soups. To use it, create a roux by cooking equal parts flour and fat (like butter) until the raw flour taste is gone before mixing into your sauce.

This method prevents clumping.

It’s best for creamy or gravy-like sauces and can add a slightly opaque appearance.

Cornstarch

Cornstarch is a gluten-free alternative to flour and is twice as potent for thickening.

Mix it with cold water to make a slurry, then stir it into the hot sauce until it thickens.

It gives a glossy finish and is great for glazes and Asian sauces. Avoid using it for sauces you plan to freeze, as it can become spongy when thawed.

Arrowroot

Arrowroot is similar to cornstarch but works better for acidic sauces and can withstand freezing.

It’s also gluten-free and gives a clear finish.

Use it like cornstarch, but be careful not to overcook, as it can break down and lose its thickening properties.

Pureed Vegetables

Adding pureed vegetables can thicken a sauce while also boosting its nutritional content.

Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or squash work well.

They should be cooked and blended until smooth, then stirred into the sauce for a subtle, flavorful thickener.

Cream

Cream adds richness and body to a sauce.

It thickens as it cooks and reduces. Heavy cream works best for thickening without curdling.

It’s ideal for creamy sauces or soups but adds significant calories and fat.

Egg Yolks

Egg yolks can thicken sauces at a low temperature.

Temper the yolks by slowly adding hot sauce to them before incorporating them back into the main pot.

This method is delicate and can curdle if overheated. It’s perfect for custards and some pasta sauces.

Cheese

Melted cheese can thicken and enrich sauces.

Hard cheeses like Parmesan work well.

Add cheese gradually to a slightly cooled sauce to prevent oils from separating. Ideal for macaroni and cheese or other cheese-based sauces.

Beurre Manié

A dough made from equal parts butter and flour can be kneaded together and added to sauces.

It’s uncooked, unlike a roux, and can be whisked into a sauce at the end of cooking to thicken quickly.

Bread Crumbs

Bread crumbs can absorb excess liquid and thicken sauces.

They’re best used in rustic sauces and can add texture. Use sparingly to avoid a doughy taste.

Can You Thicken A Sauce After Cooking?

You can generally thicken a sauce after cooking. However, you will want to avoid thickening if the sauce is already flavorful or if it risks overcooking delicate ingredients like seafood.

Sauces That Benefit from Thickening After Cooking

Thickening a sauce after cooking is often suitable for:

  • Gravies and Meat Sauces: These can be thickened post-cooking to achieve a velvety consistency that coats the meat well.
  • Stir-fry Sauces: Quick and high-heat cooking methods may not allow enough time for sauces to thicken; a post-cooking thickener can quickly adjust the texture.
  • Soups and Stews: If they are too watery, a post-cooking thickener can give them the right body without affecting the slow-cooked flavors.

When thickening sauces after cooking, it’s important to consider the desired texture and flavor.

It’s best to do this when the sauce is too thin for your preference or when you’re looking for a glossy finish that clings to the food.

Sauces That Do Not Fare Well When Thickened After Cooking

However, some sauces may not respond well to post-cooking thickening:

  • Delicate Cream or Egg-Based Sauces: Such as hollandaise or béchamel, which can separate or curdle with additional cooking or stirring.
  • Reductions: Sauces that are meant to be reduced to thicken might lose their intended flavor profile if thickened artificially after cooking.
  • Acidic Sauces: Some thickeners, like cornstarch, can lose their thickening power in highly acidic sauces like those containing a lot of tomatoes or vinegar.

How To Thicken Different Sauces

Alfredo Sauce

To thicken Alfredo sauce, you can simmer it to reduce the liquid, which concentrates the flavors and increases viscosity.

Another method is to add grated Parmesan cheese, which melts into the sauce, adding both thickness and flavor.

Be cautious with direct heat to avoid separating the dairy components.

Buffalo Sauce

Buffalo sauce can be thickened by reducing it on the stove, allowing the water content to evaporate and the sauce to concentrate.

If a quicker thickening is needed, a cornstarch slurry can be stirred in, thickening it without significantly altering the flavor.

Butter Sauce

Butter sauce, such as beurre blanc, can be thickened by emulsification, which involves whisking cold butter into the sauce gradually to create a stable and creamy texture.

It’s important not to overheat as the sauce can split, losing its emulsified state.

Caramel Sauce

Caramel sauce naturally thickens as it cools due to the sugar solidifying.

If further thickening is required, cooking the sauce longer will evaporate more water, but care must be taken to avoid burning the sugar.

Cheese Sauce

Cheese sauce is typically thickened by creating a roux with butter and flour, to which milk and cheese are added.

The cheese’s melting process helps thicken the sauce, and additional cheese can be added for extra thickness.

Chocolate Sauce

Chocolate sauce thickens as it cools because the chocolate solidifies.

For a thicker sauce, you can add more chopped chocolate and simmer until the desired consistency is reached.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce thickens as the natural pectins in the cranberries are released during cooking.

Additional sugar can help with the gelling process, and the sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Cream Sauce

Cream sauces are thickened by simmering, allowing the cream to reduce and thicken naturally.

A roux can also be used as a base before adding the cream for a more stable thickness.

Curry Sauce

Curry sauces can be thickened by simmering to reduce the liquid or by adding coconut milk, yogurt, or ground nuts, which contribute to the sauce’s body and flavor complexity.

Enchilada Sauce

Enchilada sauce is often thickened with a roux or by simmering to reduce the liquid content.

Tomato paste can also be added for thickness and a deeper flavor.

Fruit Sauce

Fruit sauces are typically thickened by cooking down the fruit to release its natural juices and pectins.

Additional thickening can be achieved with a cornstarch slurry or by adding fruit puree for a more intense flavor.

Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise sauce is an emulsion of egg yolk, lemon juice, and butter.

It thickens as the ingredients are whisked together over gentle heat; however, it can easily split if overheated.

Hot Sauce

Hot sauces are usually vinegar-based and can be thickened by reduction.

Alternatively, xanthan gum can be used as a thickener because it is effective in small quantities and doesn’t need heat to activate.

Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce can be thickened by simmering to reduce the sauce, intensifying the tomato flavor and thickening the texture.

Adding tomato paste is another effective method to achieve a richer and thicker sauce.

Marsala Sauce

Marsala sauce is typically thickened by reduction, which concentrates the Marsala wine flavor.

A slurry of cornstarch or a roux can also be used for a quicker thickening effect.

Pesto Sauce

Pesto sauce is naturally thick due to its ingredients like pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.

If a thicker consistency is desired, additional cheese or nuts can be blended into the sauce.

Pizza Sauce

Pizza sauce can be thickened by simmering to reduce the moisture content.

Adding tomato paste is another quick way to achieve a thicker consistency suitable for spreading on pizza dough.

Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti sauce, like marinara, thickens by simmering.

For a meat-based sauce, simmering not only thickens the sauce but also allows the flavors to meld together.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is not commonly thickened because it is used as a seasoning liquid.

However, if needed, a cornstarch slurry can be added and heated until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency.

Teriyaki Sauce

Teriyaki sauce can be thickened with a cornstarch slurry, which is whisked in and cooked until the sauce becomes glossy and coats the back of a spoon.

Tomato Pasta Sauce

Tomato pasta sauce can be thickened by simmering to reduce the water content or by adding tomato paste.

Vegetables like carrots or squash can also be pureed into the sauce for additional thickness.

Tzatziki Sauce

Tzatziki sauce is typically thickened with the use of strained yogurt or by draining the liquid from the cucumber.

It is not heated, as heat can cause the yogurt to curdle.

Vodka Sauce

Vodka sauce can be thickened by simmering, allowing the alcohol to cook off and the cream to reduce.

A roux can also be used at the beginning of cooking for a thicker base.

Related Questions

How do chefs thicken a sauce?

Chefs thicken sauces using various methods, such as by adding a roux, cornstarch slurry, reductions, pureed vegetables, or incorporating cream. The choice depends on the desired flavor and texture of the final dish.