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how can I thicken a sauce ,or glaze without cornstarch?

cornstarch just makes everything gloppy.

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  1. The best way would be to make more than you think you need and reduce the sauce unitl desierd consistency. Be careful not to overseason at first as all flavors will be concentrated. Or try makeing a roux equal part butter and flour cooked togther. As for the cornstarch if you mix it with water before adding to the sauce it should not be gloppy

    4 Replies
    1. re: Hascher

      I agree that when I have added cornstarch correctly it has not been gloppy.

      1. re: melpy

        Besides the slurry bit, stir the sauce well enough so the corn starch does not settle to the bottom and thicken there. A gloppy sauce may also mean that you are using too much corn starch. Better add the slurry in installments.

        1. re: paulj

          Also, you may be using too much and so over-thickening the sauce. It's easy to overuse corn starch so I add it a bit at a time (always, as stated in other posts, adding water and mixing it first).

          1. re: oakjoan

            Yes, and less is always more with cornstarch. Or is that less is just enough...

    2. For pan sauce - a pat of butter right at the end

      1. Same as what Hascher said. You need to mix the cornstarch in water first before adding to heat. Other methods are to use flour or wheat starch, potato starch, rice flour. You name it.

        1. I agree with Hascher..... adding that you can also use tapioca... Cornstarch won't make things goopy if you will do this first..... take the cornstarch, mix it in Cold Water (at least tap cool, not warm or hot)... put the water into a jar (mason jar as an example, or repurposed peanut butter jar), add the cornstarch, put on the lid & shake vigorously.... then pour into your sauce slowly while stirring constantly... silky smoothness every time with no gloopiness as long as you do not use to much

          1. Arrowroot is another choice.

            1. Chris Cook has the right idea, but try this:

              Add a little of the liquid you are trying to thicken to a bowl with some corn starch. For a pint or less of liquid, start out with a teaspoon of corn starch. Whisk to combine in the bowl and slowly pour the combined liquid into what you want to thicken. Corn starch will not fully thicken until the liquid comes up to a boil so bring the sauce up to a boil.

              If it's not thick enough, repeat. You can also try a roux, that way you won't have a "raw" flavor.

              1. Whisk the yolk of an egg in a bowl, temper it with increasingly larger amounts of your sauce liquid as you continue to whisk, then combine with all the liquid in the pan while whisking. Makes a very smooth and rich sauce. Just don't cook (scramble) the egg before it reaches the pan. You'll need to judge the ratio of egg yolk to liquid based on your desired density/texture for the sauce and experience. Egg yolk is done at 180 degrees so the sauce doesn't have to come to a boil like it does for corn starch.

                1 Reply
                1. re: todao

                  As always, Todao, your suggestion is terrific. I don't know why I never thought of using an egg yolk as a thickener. I guess I have used an egg yolk as a thickener, but in the recipes where I did so, I did not realize that, in addition to adding flavor, the egg yolk was thickening the mixture, as well. Thanks!

                2. There are three main ways to thicken a sauce:

                  1. Roux is the traditional way. Add equal parts flour and butter/oil to a saucepan and heat until combined. Cooking for longer adds flavour but reduces the thickening power. Add your sauce or glaze to the roux, heat while stirring, and serve.
                  2. A Beurre Manie is equal parts butter and flour mixed together off the heat and then added to your sauce while heating, stirring constantly.
                  3. A slurry is water plus a starch, added to the sauce off the heat and then stirred and heated until thickened. Corn starch is only one option, so is flour, rice flour, arrowroot, potato starch, tapioca etc.

                  Good luck!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Keyser_Saucier

                    Welcome to Chowhound, Keyser! A knowledgeable post, and your handle is going on my list of favorites.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      Agreed. This is the best answer, because there are several ways. I'll just add the rustic Italian way to do it, bearing in mind that this works best when you don't have to thicken too much - throw in dried breadcrumbs, a teaspoon or so at a time. This is great if you've got a nice rustic pasta sauce going and just need to thicken the slightest bit. Don't do it for a fine French sauce!

                  2. You can also try arrowroot as a thickener. Find it in the spice aisle. Butter works. Or just reduce the sauce further. This will concentrate the flavor more, so taste often. I had a sauce that tasted perfect but was too thin so I reduced it and ended up with a sauce that was too salty...


                    1. I've used xanthan gum with great success. You can usually find it with various flours in health food sections. A bag will go for twelve or thirteen dollars but you use so little it'll last for years. I can thicken a pot of stew with about half a teaspoon, sometimes less.

                        1. You have many options for thickening sauces. Unfortunately, there is no perfect method and most have some down-side or another - weak thickening, flavor-dulling, flavor-changing, time-consuming, fat-increasing, or some combination of the above.

                          Thickening with starch -
                          This is a very traditional route. In addition to cornstarch, you can also use flour, potato starch, rice flour, powdered arrowroot. Keyser_Saucier gives some good recommendations for classical ways to introduce powdered starches into your sauces. As for non-powdered starches, you can also thicken by adding some starchy vegetables (beans and potatoes come to mind) and cooking them long enough to release sufficient starch into the sauce (or pureeing them after cooking).
                          Starches tend to dull the flavor of the sauces they thicken, notably requiring the addition of salt to compensate. Starch in a cooked roux can add a toasty flavor of its own. Most starches need to be cooked sufficiently to avoid 'raw' starch flavors.

                          Mounting with butter:
                          You can thicken by whisking butter into a sauce. This is usually done just before serving, consists of adding small amounts of butter while whisking the warm but not boiling sauce, and usually requires a fairly large amount of butter for the volume of the sauce - a single pat of butter added to a large pan of sauce won't accomplish much. Butter used in this way has fairly weak thickening power, and changes the flavor of the sauce, albeit in a way that many people like.

                          Simmering down:
                          Especially effective in any stock-based sauce, sauces with lots of gelatin, and sauces with lots of sugar, you're thickening by removing water from the equation. This method often requires quite a bit of sauce to produce anything particularly thick. It can take a while. Simmering down intensifies the flavor of sauces and can also make sauces taste less fresh, as more volatile aroma compounds are steamed off.

                          * Simmering down is usually the best option for thickening a glaze that you intend to cook on a piece of meat at high temperature. *

                          Thickening with hydrocolloids:
                          The most well known here is gelatin, but there are many hyrdocolloids. Since gelatin has fairly weak thickening power (which is different from it's lower temperature gelling powder), I'm referring mostly to xanthan gum (probably the most useful hydrocolloid as a thickener). Xanthan gum is fairly quick, and requires very small amounts to thicken. It usually needs to be added in a blender to prevent clumping. It can dull the flavor of sauces a bit.

                          Fluid gels:
                          Certain gelling agents can be used to fully gel a liquid (like gelatine does), and then be turned back into a liquid (thicker than it was originally but with a very smooth mouth-feel) by running that gel through a blender. Specifically, agar and gellan work this way. Agar is easier to obtain and work with, but tends to dull the flavor of a fluid gel more than gellan. Gellan preserves flavor particularly well but has a hard time working with many ions - both salt and the calcium normally present in tap water cause gelling problems. It is also expensive.

                          Adding thicker ingredients and then pureeing/cooking down:
                          This is essentially why tomato sauce is thick - it's thickened by the cellulose in tomatoes. Many vegetables and fruits can work like this (fruit can additionally add pectin which thickens as it cools). Some of my favorite sauces involve browning and then simmering nuts until they are soft and then pureeing that mixture. I've seen sauces thickened by adding stale bread and pureeing - works best if served quickly since small bread particles slowly swell up and become noticeably gritty.

                          Finally, you can obviously use some combination of the above. Many if not most classical sauces do. Then there's stuff that I forgot to place up above- simple stuff like thickening by adding cream or sour cream. Or whipping certain liquids into a foam (often with the help of a hyrdocolloid or some lechithin). Or making an emulsion, if the recipe allows. And I like Todao's suggestion of essentially making a custard with egg yolks, though I've never tried it for any non-custard application.

                          I'm gonna have to stop myself now.

                          18 Replies
                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Thank you for a great post cowboy! I learned a lot.

                            I am always looking for a way to thicken meat and fish based sauces without adding fat. How does xanthan gum taste when added to say a beef stock? How is the texture?

                            1. re: cajundave

                              Wow Cowboy, you really crushed it.
                              When adding butter make sure the butter is cold. I've never found that I needed more than two tablespoons for a sauce, but I'm usually only going for a light coating.

                              I can usually tell when sauce is thickened with a slurry and don't use them because of it. There is something about the sauce texture that I don't like. I have the same problem with a beurre manie...it takes so long to get the flour taste/texture out.

                              Is there anything that heavy cream doesn't make taste better.

                              Thanks also for mentioning vegetables/puree's. My new favorite is using leeks in place of onions in my stocks and then blending. I think there is something unique about the way leeks cook down and thicken but it could just be me...

                              1. re: letorthopper

                                letorthopper: you're wrong about slurry (at least in Asian foods) -- however:

                                You're darned right about heavy cream... and

                                You're right about leeks. Why do you think vichyssoise (sp?) is oh-so creamy and slick when it's done right... it's the leeks, pureed.

                                1. re: letorthopper

                                  Definitely agree with the cream. I dislike sauces thickened with flour/roux.

                                  1. re: souschef

                                    Cream can be fattening...although it seems more CHers don't believe that you can be a CHer and be concerned with healthy eating.

                                    1. re: melpy

                                      Sure, cream can be fattening, but I believe in everything in moderation. Eating healthy does not mean (to me) completely avoiding some foods. I LOVE foie gras, which is about the worst you can get health-wise, but I eat it only a couple of times a year.

                              2. re: cowboyardee

                                Bread, crackers and nuts can also be used as thickeners. Mexican moles use both. Spanish also like to use them, both for cold sauces (romesco) and hot. Ground tortillas or chips can substitute for a masa slurry in chili. Ground crackers are also common in Peruvian sauces (both cold and hot). Cooked starches like this don't need to made into a slurry.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Buried in that huge post, I mentioned that one of my favorite ways to make a sauce is with toasted nuts as a thickener. I learned a lot about how to thicken and affect the texture of sauces without sacrificing flavor from working on various Mexican sauces and moles - I forgot to even mention tortillas and masa harina.

                                  Haven't tried much Peruvian sauce-making or thickening with crackers so I'll have to look into it.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    OK, I missed your mention of nuts and bread because I was thinking of preground nuts and breads. Although pesto and romesco are cases where these items are ground along with other ingredients.

                                2. re: cowboyardee

                                  What would sodium citrate fall under?

                                  1. re: takadi

                                    It's a salt of citric acid.

                                    I've only personally used it in cheese sauces where it acts as an emulsifier. I don't know how it does though - just that it does.

                                    I know it's also used in sperification where it is added in lieu or regular salt to raise the pH of a highly acidic liquid to the point that it can be spherified. And it is sometimes used as a kind of preservative in processed foods, but I don't know much about that otherwise.

                                    I've never heard of it being used as a thickener, and there was no noticeable thickening of the cheese sauces I've worked with after using it. But they were thick to begin with.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      My mistake, I mistook it for a thickener when it was actually an emulsifier. It seems that most thickeners or thickening methods sacrifices flavors somewhat. The use of sodium citrate prevents the dulling of flavors by using a bechamel, but I'm wondering if there's any way to thicken or reduce without sacrificing volatile aromatics.

                                      1. re: takadi

                                        It really depends on what you're thickening, and how much thickening you want. What are you trying to make?

                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                          Oops. The rest of us should have asked this first before we tried to answer.

                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            I'm actually trying to make a beef gravy from stock reduction but I find that it loses so much of that "beefy" flavor. I tried thickening it with a roux instead but I think I added too much flour and it just had no taste at all.

                                            1. re: takadi

                                              I dislike using a roux, flour has incredibly poor flavor release.
                                              Here are some thickeners (mostly modified starches) on Modernist Pantry:

                                              I personally use:
                                              Perfected xanthan
                                              Iota carrageenan
                                              Ultra-Tex 4

                                              I have perfected guar gum too but I still haven't opened the package.

                                              1. re: takadi

                                                Your first option might include reducing further to a demiglace consistency, which can be somewhat syrupy and almost overly flavored. Classic French fine dining restaurants (especially pre-nouvelle cuisine) often use sauces of stock reduced to a demiglace, sometimes along with another flavoring liquid or two (wine, for example), and then often mounted with butter for a lighter feel and less sharp flavor. This method can produce a fairly thick sauce but it requires a lot of high quality stock (lots of gelatin) to make a relatively small amount of sauce, and the flavor isn't particularly light.

                                                If not much thickening is needed, you might find that mounting with butter alone meets your needs quite well. The flavor is altered a bit, but not necessarily dulled, and not necessarily in a bad way either.

                                                Beyond that, for light thickening of many sauces, xanthan gum works pretty well without sacrificing much flavor. Definitely less effect on flavor than a roux or traditional starch thickeners. It's extra useful since it can be applied to cold or room temperature liquids, which means you don't have to cook away some of the 'fresh' flavors associated with some sauces/liquids to thicken them. It can have an unpleasantly slimy texture if you attempt to make it too thick though. It also works particularly well in combination with just about any other thickening method for just a little extra viscosity. If you haven't messed with xanthan gum yet, I suggest you give it a try - it's the easiest and most versatile 'modernist' thickener to use.

                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                  <Your first option might include reducing further to a demiglace consistency, which can be somewhat syrupy and almost overly flavored. Classic French fine dining restaurants (especially pre-nouvelle cuisine) often use sauces of stock reduced to a demiglace, sometimes along with another flavoring liquid or two (wine, for example), and then often mounted with butter for a lighter feel and less sharp flavor. This method can produce a fairly thick sauce but it requires a lot of high quality stock (lots of gelatin) to make a relatively small amount of sauce, and the flavor isn't particularly light.>

                                                  My favorite way, plus if I'm making dinner in a hurry it's crazy easy and can be done in like 20 minutes (assuming you have homemade stock on hand).

                                    2. If it's from something like a pot roast, I have braised the meat with diced vegetables and then pureed the veggies with the pan juices into a thick, flavorful gravy. Sort of a cooked smoothie!