Fast & Lazy Thickener

John Liu

I confess, I don’t know much about thickening liquids - stews, sauces, soups.

Naturally, I try to cover up this ignorance by asserting that “thickeners are bad” and that the only righteous way to thicken is to drain off the liquid, reduce it over high heat, then return the reduced and concentrated liquid to the solid part of the dish. This does often result in a powerful, intense flavor. It also takes a long time and sometimes the result is overly intense. And prejudices born of ignorance are, well, ignoble.

So, I am looking for a go-to, quick & dirty, cheat-sheet, general purpose technique to thicken any liquid in a minimum of time and without changing the flavor.

I’ve watched Good Eats episodes about roux, glopped corn starch into soups, looked at other thickening agents. Nothing has really clicked, and by clicked I mean been easy to remember, take less than 10 minutes, and not require hard-to-get ingredients. Because, while I’d like not to be ignorant, I’m perfectly content to be lazy.

Do you have a trick for this?

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Comments (29)
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gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

My go-to thickener is a corn starch slurry: 2 parts cold water (or other liquid) to one part corn starch, mixed completely. Add slowly to hot liquid while stirring constantly.

IMO, doesn't get much faster or easier :-)

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arkansas girl

I use flour the same was as gardengal uses the corn starch. I'm not sure if this fits the bill for you, it is fine for my taste buds.

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chloebud

I do the same thing with cornstarch...definitely quick and easy due to the thickening power of cornstarch. It also cooks up clear/translucent with no lumps and no flavor.



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plllog

I much prefer tapioca for pies, but for other thickening I use arrowroot or agar agar, depending on what it is. You use arrowroot the same way as any other starch. It's just not so gloppy. I only use gums as recommended in recipes. Agar agar, in my limited experience, is nicer than guar.

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seagrass_gw

If you are making a soup or stew with potatoes or beans in it, you can mash some of the vegetables into the broth to thicken it...

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smiling

I use Clear Jel instead of cornstarch because it is more stable at higher heat. There is also a great Instant Clear Jel for things you want to thicken without cooking (such as fresh-berry pies). The Instant Clear Jel is mixed with the sugar to avoid any clumping, and gives a softer jel than using gelatin. Just saw that King Arthur has it in their new catalog. Other sources online, too, for larger quantities.

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TXSkeeter

I use corn starch or potato starch shaken in a small bottle (most likely was filled originally with mushrooms) with cold water. Ratio is probably about was noted above but just eye measured. Mix into simmering liquid slowly, a little bit a time until mixture thickens to your satisfaction.... usually doesn't take much to do the job. Simple, easy, and cheap plus I keep both products on hand anyway. As far as I can tell, neither adds nor detracts from the taste of whatever you're trying to thicken and if you thicken too much, just add a little more stock or water to thin it back out again. If liquid in pan is already simmering, the whole process takes perhaps a couple of minutes.

As a bonus, either product can also be used as the initial dusting layer when you want to apply an egg wash type dip (egg mix dipped before flour) or other coating before frying.

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foodonastump

I don’t think there’s a one size fits all; different mouth feel. Wondra gets the most use here, by far.

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Ladydi Zone 7A NW BC Canada

I use Bisto mixed 1/2 & 1/2 with flour and a little cold water before whisking into what I'm thickening. My gravies never fail (no lumps) and taste natural. This is our Thanksgiving supper tonight. Not following my keto diet tonight.



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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I usually puree some of what's being cooked and for most dishes I like corn flour. I know it does change the taste but I like the addition of corn in many things.

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carolb_w_fl_coastal_9b

I like cornstarch for gravies and white sauce, since it's more clear and smoother, less grainy than flour, and I find it tasteless, compared to flour.

And I use 2 Tbs. of tapioca sprinkled over the bottom of a fruit pie before filling it, for thickening.

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olychick

I don't care for cornstarch thickening for savory things and only use it for sweet things like some fruit desserts. I much prefer flour for thickening savory things like gravy, stews and chowder. I usually dry toast flour a tiny bit in a heavy skillet, then add some water to make a slurry, cook until thickened, then add to the liquid in my dish. Or ladle some of that liquid into the flour to dissolve it.

I don't cook much that way any more (except for white clam chowder) but remember how easy wondra was as a quick and easy thickener for gravy with no lumps, ever.

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morz8

When I was a more efficient cook, I would keep cubes of roux in the freezer. Not deeply browned and colored, more pale and it would work for pretty much whatever I was making - chicken pork or beef. Freeze in ice cube tray, drop in frozen. No lumps once the flour is mixed well into the butter. A scant cup butter (more like 3/4 C) to a cup of flour of your choice. A fine wheat good. Cook over low heat until raw flour taste gone - approx 10 or so minutes? Then freeze.

I haven't done it in a while. I think it was supposed to be good for three or 4 months and in my manual defrost freezer I kept it longer than that.

I have a couple of vintage tupperware 'gravy shakers' and will do flour and water to thicken juices from something like a pot roast though - I use chuck usually, something that needs no additional butter being already loaded with melted fats.

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lindac92

I use several techiniques for thickening....d.epending on what it is. I like flour....because I like the taste it fives to most things...just be sure to cook it. I use corn starch for pudding like things and berry desserts....sometimes. Not fond of tapioca flour...it can go ropey and get very disgusting if you over cook. Also cornstarch can lose it's thickening power faster upon long cooking than flour.
I shake some flour with a liquid...water, broth, wine, juice, milk....depending on what. and add slowly while stirring.
I also do the buerre manie trick for simple pan sauces. I keep a stick of flour and butter mixed together in the freezer and add a bit to a simmering pan sauce....what's not to like about more butter in your sauce?

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Islay Corbel

I often use cornflour because it's so quick and easy. For slow cooked meat dishes, I flour the meat and brown it so there's enough flour there to thicken the sauce. For something like a panna cotta I'd use agar agar.

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LoneJack Zn 6a, KC

Corn starch mixed into cold water is used most of the time but I've started using homemade tomato powder for thickening a few things like soups, stews, and chili if it needs it. It does add some additional flavor but not intense.

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sleevendog (5a NY 6aNYC NL CA)

I tend to agree about not finding a one size fits all. I do stock in my pantry just about all of the above mentioned. (except wondra and bisto). Just don't know what those are.

15-20 years ago our immediate families became all things vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy free, etc, then keto, vegan, etc. Add type 1 diabetes to that. I do all the cooking at reunions to help MIL and my mother so they could relax. My friends not so much in those categories. Plenty of raw food plant based salad offerings for that.

Agar agar, (seaweed based), arrowroot, Bob's redMill guar gum, Xanthan Gum, nutritional yeast, nut milks, tapioca, (good grief) 😂 Though important for celiac and vegan, keto....

For soups and stews I like to set aside a cup or two of the mirepoix/sofrito and blender or stick blender with some of the broth late in the cooking/finish. Whole cherry tomatoes like sun gold in the freezer can be added. Roasted whole garlic bulbs, (I did a couple dozen a few months ago and froze).

Made a beef stew last week and used my favorite broth-flour-roux. Medium dark took just a few minutes. The broth was perfect in taste, just a bit thin. We don't stock potatoes often so I used and had just veg like yellow carrots, and shallots, golden beets. Could have blendered the veg but stew was good with a traditional roux.

Corn flour, corn starch, would be my go-to for simple. Tapioca for fruit pies.

Important for us anywho to have the choices and know how to use them.

I don't think we ever go the reduction route. Or care for an overly gooey clear corn starch glazy stir-fry. Thick floured chowders....thick dressings like the shelf stable bottled stuff. Some thickeners are so cheap that they use them to add a false richness.

Yet so many thickeners in moderation can add just the right thickening. One eight a teaspoon of Xanthan Gum is impressive. I fermented a quart of hatch chili that I bottled last week. Perfectly fluid like sriracha but not watery. Plant based emulsion thickeners can get a bit creepy.



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John Liu

Okay! Lots of things for me to test out. My goal is to find one or two techniques/ingredients, always have them on hand, and know how to use them without hardly any thought. Because, lazy :-)

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nancyjane_gardener

I use the corn starch/water mixture in a lot of things (soups mostly), but make sure I'm going to simmer the soup/stew for another 10 minutes or so to get rid of that corn starch taste.

With a potato or bean based soup or stew I use my stick blender and partially blend the dish, and, again, give it a few minutes to thicken up.

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sheilajoyce_gw

These days, I tend to use one or two tablespoons of cornstarch thoroughly mixed in 1/4 cup cold water. Be sure the liquid is cold and not too much of it or you will fight lumps. Cook several minutes to thicken, stirring frequently. For gravies made from roast drippings, I use flour that has cooked in the fat for 2 minutes before adding hot liquid and cooking to thicken, seasoned with salt and pepper.

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KatieC

I use cornstarch or ClearJel mostly...gluten intolerant daughter and I've been avoiding gluten (wheat belly is a real thing, lol). I'm getting used to it, but I like gravy made with roux better. I do a lot of reduced pan sauces, but when you need gravy, you need a lot of it, lol. My best lazy thing is to dump some instant potato flakes in to thicken potato soups.

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shambo

In addition to regular flour, Wondra flour, and cornstarch, I use Cornaby’s E-Z gel. Grainlady spoke about it quite often, and I ordered some from Amazon. It’s an instant thickener, gluten free, and will not break down when frozen or refrigerated or cooked a while.

I use it when making stovetop fruit compotes or when a gravy is thin and needs more body. Same with soups, stews, & chili. It’s also good for salad dressings — adding body and emulsifying.

Cornaby’s makes another thickener called Thick Gel that is used just like regular cornstarch. Its advantage is that it, too, doesn’t break down when frozen, refrigerated or cooked longer.

Another thing I use with chili and Mexican style dishes is masa flour. It give a flavor similar to crushed tortilla chips.

And I’ve also used finely ground bread crumbs when I need just a bit more thickening. They basically dissolve in the broth of whatever I’m making. Plain white bread is best because it doesn’t introduce any strange flavors or textures.

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bragu_DSM 5

egg drop soup dry mix

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TXSkeeter

All this reminds me of Thanksgiving when my wife always requests her mother’s “brown flour gravy”. i just put her in charge of browning the raw flour and she‘s good to go with her “mom” T-day memories for a couple of hours.

A day when those that are no longer

with us can take a place at the table too, no matter how many are already squeezed into usually, too few seats. But isn’t that the objective?

Sorry to get OT but as one gets older and in my case, suddenly far more infirm, one really starts to think of more than just the turkey, mashed taters, and even more beautiful dishes that have been prepared by hands close to us 😕.

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bbstx

I was coming to say beurre manie, but lindac has already mentioned it. If you don’t have a recipe for beurre manie, it is one part softened butter mixed with one part flour. Saveur says it is the easiest way to thicken anything. I agree.

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sleevendog (5a NY 6aNYC NL CA)

Did not realize Wondra is a pre-cooked wheat flour, then dried and ground ultra fine. Dissolves quickly. (similar to instant oats)

Easy jel, etc are modified starches. Usually corn. I have some purchased at a medical supply. Used to thicken liquids for those that have a swallowing issue.(I use it to thicken paint). A concern at one time was the process considered a high chemically processed method to make it. (I have no clue about that)

I suppose choosing a few or two quick go-to methods would be about the diets your family/friends adhere to.

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annie1992

Like KatieC, I have a daughter who can't have gluten so I steer away from flour. I've used beurre manie in the past, but more often use cornstarch slurry or tapioca. I also keep some instant potato flakes on hand for using in bread and have found that I can thicken some soups with those.

Annie

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bragu_DSM 5

We use the wondra when cooking morels ... with a smidge of corn meal and frying' magic after a dip in egg ... cooked in butter

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jane__ny

Wondra Flour. Works for everything, non lumping and you can sprinkle it on until you get the desired thickness. In every supermarket. Easy, peasy.

Jane

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