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How To Thicken Sauce (Including Vegan and Gluten-Free Alternatives)

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How To Thicken Sauce (Including Vegan and Gluten-Free Alternatives)
Photo Marco Verch/Flickr

There is nothing like the flavor of a homemade sauce and the satisfaction that comes with knowing you have cooked something delicious. Sometimes, regardless of your best intentions, you might end up with a sauce thinner than you intended. So how can you thicken a sauce perfectly every time?

If you've been in this saucy situation then Fine Dining Lovers is here to help! We offer tips and suggestions for thickening everything from tomato sauce and gravy to barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce and beyond.

How to Thicken Sauce without Cornstarch

If you would rather not thicken a sauce with cornstarch then the next best thing is to use a classic French roux: a blend of butter and flour. To make a roux equal parts of flour and butter are used. Once the butter melts the flour is added to the pot and the mixture is stirred for a few minutes until it thickens and becomes fragrant.

This is all done at the beginning of the cooking process. The liquid ingredients are whisked in slowly to prevent any lumps. For instance, a roux is the base of bechamel sauce, a creamy white sauce often paired with pasta.

How To Use Beuree Manié

On the other hand, if the sauce is already made and is a little too thin for your taste you can rely on another French cooking trick: the beurre manié.

Beurre manié is a paste made from uncooked flour and softened butter that is dropped into a sauce in very small amounts. The sauce should be whisked vigorously to allow the beurre manié to dissolve and thicken it. 

This video shows you how to make beurre manié and a few guidelines for using it:

How To Thicken Tomato Sauce and Spaghetti Sauce

When making a tomato sauce from scratch you'll have to rely on the power of reduction to help thicken it. Reduction refers to the simple act of cooking a sauce over slow heat until it thickens. It is important to stir the sauce often to prevent it from sticking. This method of slow cooking will also give the sauce depth of flavor.

Reduction is a technique ideal for thickening spaghetti sauce. However, adding some tomato paste will help the process move along.

How to Thicken BBQ Sauce

Molasses is a key ingredient that helps thicken and sweeten barbecue sauce. Cooking it over low heat is essential to allow the sauce to reduce and concentrate its flavors. This barbecue sauce from Chef Tips comes out perfectly thick every time. You'll love it!

How To Thicken Teriyaki Sauce

The best way to thicken teriyaki sauce is to cooking over low heat until it reaches a syrupy consistency. The extra time in the kitchen will be worth it when you end up with a luscious teriyaki sauce perfect for glazing meats, chicken, and fish.

Here are two recipes for teriyaki sauce and teriyaki glaze that will add oomph to your Asian-themed meals:


How To Thicken Sauces with A Slurry

Some Asian sauces benefit from the addition of a slurry: a mixture of equal amounts of cold water and cornstarch. Depending on how much sauce you are making you can begin with a teaspoon of each. Mix the slurry in a small bowl and set it aside. 

Unlike a roux, which is prepared at the beginning of the cooking process, a slurry is added to the sauce at the very end. After you whisk the slurry into a sauce it will quickly thicken and adopt a nice seen courtesy of the cornstarch. 

How to Thicken Sauce: Vegan and Gluten-Free Alternatives

If you lead a gluten-free lifestyle a roux isn't for you. However, there are plenty of great alternatives that are also naturally vegan.

A great idea for thickening sauces is to use nuts. Almonds and cashews work really well for this purpose. Simply soak the nuts in water and puree. The nut puree should be whisked vigorously while the sauce cooks over low heat to prevent splattering.

For instance, nuts are used to thicken a number of Indian sauces including the famous korma (which can easily be made with vegetables instead of chicken).

Other great alternatives? Pureed cooked rice or potato will help thicken sauces thanks to their high content of starch. A great way to thicken black bean soup, for example, would be to puree just half of the soup. This will add texture and creaminess.

How To Thicken Sauce with Xanthan Gum

If you've jumped onto the molecular gastronomy bandwagon then you may be familiar with xantham gum, a thickener made from seaweed. Xantham gum is very popular in gluten-free baking and a little goes a long way. It is ideal for thickening salad dressings and even cappuccinos. Chris Young from Chef Steps shows you how to use it to thicken your favorite recipes.

How To Thicken Gravy

Click here to learn all the tips and tricks to making the ultimate homemade gravy - a sauce that is lump pree and perfectly thickened.

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