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Back to Basics: How To Thicken a Soup or Gravy

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Back to Basics: How To Thicken a Soup or Gravy

Everyone wants that perfect gravy come Thanksgiving but have you ever found yourself struggling to get it to the right consistency? It’s all in how you thicken your sauce. The same could be said about soups and stews. In general, there are four thickening techniques you should familiarize yourself with. Here's an overview of how to thicken a soup or gravy and which methods work best: 

Roux
Traditionally, a roux is a paste made of flour and butter (or in the case of gravy, fat drippings from a roast). These two ingredients are whisked together and cooked for a few minutes before adding liquid to the pan while whisking vigorously. At this point you could turn it into a bechamel or a silky smooth gravy like this one. A roux is the building block of a creamy mac and cheese and is great for thickening gumbos, clam chowder, casseroles and dips.

Slurry
If you find yourself making a stir fry then forget about using a roux. Instead, the occasion calls for making a slurry, which is a combination of cornstarch and water blended together to form a loose paste. Unlike a roux, which is prepared at the beginning of the cooking process, a slurry is added at the end and whisked into a boiling liquid. It works like magic to thicken everything from stir fry sauces to soups and curries. A word of caution: slurries are great thickeners and a little goes a long way. Try it in this tasty cashew and chicken stir fry.

Purees
A simple way to thicken soup is to puree a portion of it or the whole thing. If you like a chunky split pea soup or black bean soup just puree half of it and add it back to the pan. However, if you desire a silky texture like the one in this creamy pumpkin soup you'll need to puree the entire pot of soup. When preparing something like beef stew you could fish out some carrots and potatoes, puree them and add them back to the pot. 

Reductions
All that is required for a reduction is time. This technique involves cooking a liquid slowly until it has mostly evaporated. What is left behind is a liquid with a syrupy consistency perfect for drizzling over foods. A good example of this would be the red wine reduction used in this stunning dessert of poached pears.

Video Lesson For How To Thicken A Soup

In this throwback video celebrity chef Ming Tsai demonstrates these four thickening techniques and explains what each one is good for. Take a look:

video via WGBH Foods/YouTube

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