Saturday, May 1, 2010

How to Thicken or Stretch Runny Sauces, Soups and Stews

Have you ever made a casserole or one pot meal of some sort and it ended up flavorful enough but too runny? How about too small a quantity when friends unexpectedly drop by? Have you cooked in advance and occasionally an absolutely beautiful dish thaws into a wet, separated mess?

This has happened to me more often than I care to recall. Fortunately these problems are easy to fix.

* For soups and stew, stir in plain bread crumbs a tablespoon at a time. My boys, now 11, 12 and 13 still like to watch the crumbs disappear and scour their bowls for any sign of them. The bread crumbs soak up the broth and really are completely invisible in the dish. Would I try this with Alfredo sauce? No. But for soups and stews it's the perfect save.

* Add flour and water to thicken opaque dishes into a more robust gravy and cornstarch and water for translucent sauces like teriyaki or sweet and sour. This isn't something I've ever measured (although I'm sure you should). I just add a few large tablespoons of flour/cornstarch to a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Then I fill the container half full with cold water (never warm or hot) and shake the heck out of it until it makes a smooth thick but runny paste. I add this to my recipe a little at a time until the desired consistency is achieved. Be sure to boil for at least one minute to cook off the gluey taste. Also, watch out for lumps. For company I'll pour the flour/water solution through a small strainer into the pot - for family I pick them out, break them up or don't worry about it.

* Use instant mashed potatoes, a spoonful at a time as a virtually invisible thickener. Potatoes seem to leave a little more trace of texture than bread crumbs but they are my first choice in pea  soup, lentil dishes etc.

* You can also boil the broth down. Be really careful with this though because salt and flavor will be condensed and subsequently intensified. Also, you run the risk of overcooking. If I choose this option, particularly good if the dish is a little bland, I ladle out some excess broth into a small pot and boil it on high until reduced. This way the whole dish isn't victim to excess cooking and I can taste test as I add the broth back in.

* To thicken and stretch a meal make dumplings. There are few easier things to throw together and I can pretty much guarantee everything you need is in your pantry already. Dumplings are one of the great foods in life - airy pillows of bread rising out of a thick gravy - HEAVEN!

The other night I thawed the filling for Shepherd's Pie and it had separated (never had that happen before... hmmm) into a really unappetizing mess. To add to my troubles, I was in too much pain to make fresh mashed potatoes and we only use instant to thicken soups. I could serve the filling on toast with a vegetable but I knew it wouldn't be enough food for my crowd. Dumplings to the rescue! They do double duty of adding body to your sauce and providing a side dish - what we used to call "starch" back in the day.

1 ½ C flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2/3 C milk
1 large egg
1 TBL oil
Whisk together dry ingredients.
Make a well and add wet ingredients.
Stir to combine
Drop rounded spoonfuls into simmering broth
Cover and simmer for 13-15 minutes

You can add any complimentary herb to the flour mixture. For example, chives are amazing,  dill, fennel, rosemary and thyme are good too. I often replace the salt with garlic salt. 

I've never met a person who didn't go all love-sick over a well made dumpling.

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madebymegs said...

Ohhh...thanks for the great tips; especially the dumplings recipe. The dumplings sound absolutely delicious :)

Dunx said...

very useful information. What about not having any sauce at all? That's usually what I end up with when I try to improvise a curry.

MaryC said...

Hadn't thought of bread crumbs but use instant mashed potatoes a lot. I even sent some with the RGH to work. He thickens his crock pot juices with them. Great post. I am going to try your dumplings.

~Brandy~ said...

I'm gonna have to try your dumpling recipe. We love dumplings - but I have never really made them. (tried once and it was a disaster) When we lived in North Carolina I used to keep a bag of frozen ones on hand - it was my husband's idea so I wouldn't have to go through the "trouble" of making them. LOL!!