Knowing how to cook a proper sauce or gravy is a technique every cook must learn. When it comes to sauce consistency is key and as a cook you need to be in control of the outcome.
There is a right way and a wrong way to do it.
If you have ever attempted to thicken a sauce by simply stirring flour into the simmering liquid, you’ll end up with lumps. The starch level around each lump expands and forms a gel that prevents separating. This is a big no no.
Lucky for us there are right ways to do it and it’s pretty straight forward. Pay attention to the following methods to learn how to thicken the right way and elevate your sauce game.
This method involves an equal parts flour and softened butter. These two ingredients are then kneaded together until every flour particle is coated with the fat, creating a dough ball known. This is the beurre manie, a thickening agent perfect for adding shine and viscosity to your sauces, soups, and stews.
If you have a custard or sauce you want to thicken, you can also consider a liaison. This is made by tempering 1/3 of your hot mixture or sauce into a stainless steel bowl of whipped egg yolks and cream. From there you constantly whisk the mixture so the eggs and cream do not curdle (very important). Once well combined, add the entire contents of the bowl back to the entire mixture and keep whisking until the sauce turns slightly thicker. If you decide to use this method your sauce will be richer, creamier, and provide a more mouthfeel texture.
You may have heard this as a common way to make a cheese sauce (for mac and cheese of course) but a roux is a perfect way to add viscosity to various soups and sauces. It is considered one of the four out of five Mother Sauces used in French cuisine. It contains equal parts flour and fat whisked in a hot pan until smooth, and then cooked to either a white, blond, or brown roux depending on desired caramelization and depth. A pro tip you can also use gluten free flours in place of the more common flours to offer more options for you sensitive patrons.
A slurry is a good way to add flour to your sauce without having it create lumps. However, first you must make it separately and prepare to add it in. In a small bowl, add an equal amount of starch and cold liquid together and smooth it out into a paste. Whisk your slurry into the hot, simmering liquid that you wish to thicken and bring to a boil. Keep whisking and boiling simultaneously until there is no longer a starch taste.
Making sure you master how to thicken a sauce will surely allow you more control over your end product. In the end practice makes perfect and it’s always best to master as many of the above techniques as you can.