There isn't much worse than a soupy stew, a runny sauce or a too-watery soup. Cure those problems with thickeners you most likely have on hand. Some thickeners add flavor and texture, as well as thickening properties. Keep in mind that a soup, stew or sauce will thicken as it cools down.
Cornstarch thickens a dish without changing the color or clarity of it. Wheat flour, on the other hand, turns a liquid opaque. Mix each type of thickener with water to form a smooth paste before adding to the hot liquid. Gradually add the paste -- called a slurry -- while stirring constantly, and allow the thickeners some time to cook to get rid of the raw taste. Bread crumbs dissolve and thicken soups and stews while adding texture and flavor. If you don't have any of these thickeners but do have oatmeal and a spice grinder, you're in luck. Grind the oatmeal to a fine powder and slowly add it to soups or stews. Let the liquid simmer for a few moments so you can tell whether you need to add more.
Vegetables to the Rescue
One of the best ways to thicken a dish involves no additional ingredients. Just remove some of the vegetables from the soup or stew, puree them, and return them to the pot. Thickening with potatoes, beans and cornmeal is ideal for soups and stews, rather than sauces. Cook the potatoes and mash them well, then add them to the liquid. Blend canned or cooked beans until smooth, then add a bit at a time to the liquid every few minutes. Sprinkle a good pinch of cornmeal into the liquid as you stir. As the cornmeal cooks, it thickens the liquid.
Fat and Flour
Combine butter and flour by mixing it together with your fingers to create a buerre manie, which thickens a dish as a roux does. A roux is a mixture of equal parts flour and fat that is cooked; a buerre manie is not. Add a small amount of the fat and flour mixtures at a time and stir to thicken before adding more.
Just Reduce It
A little patience is sometimes all it takes to thicken a stew, soup or sauce. Allowing the liquids to reduce not only thickens the dish, it amps up the taste because the flavors become concentrated. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower it so bubbles continue to break the surface but can be slowed down by stirring. Because the flavor is amplified, adjust the seasonings. Spicy dishes become spicier or hotter as the dish is reduced.
- The Art of Cooking; Arnold Zabert
- Splendid Soups; James Peterson