If the weeknight chicken tikka masala recipe you're trying to make for the first time ends up too watery, don't panic. Depending on what you have in stock in the pantry, it's effortless to thicken curry and thicken sauce using a number of different thickening agents.
You can thicken curry or thicken sauce by making a roux, using tomato paste or employing arrowroot powder. Another simple way of thickening curry is simmering the mixture, uncovered, over medium heat, for an extended period, until the liquid evaporates.
Common Thickening Agents
So how do you define a thickening agent? A thickening agent is any ingredient or method that is used to thicken curry, or thicken sauce, when they are too runny.
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Usually, adding a modicum of flour can thicken up a curry quickly, and so this has been a tried and tested method of thickening in the kitchen. However, if you're looking to avoid the use of flour, other thickening agents, like arrowroot, can be substituted.
Thicken Sauce With a Roux:
According to the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, a roux is a commonly used cooking technique to thicken up soups, stocks and curries. Made by constantly stirring an amount of flour with an equal amount of melted fat, like butter, in a pan, over medium heat, a roux requires patience.
In the first five minutes of slowly adding in the flour to the pan and whisking, you will end up with what is called a white roux. Continue to whisk for another 15 minutes, and you will see the roux begin to darken and give off a fragrant, nutty smell. Once the roux gets to your desired color, add it in to thicken curry, or let it cool before storage for later use.
Using a fat, like butter, or lard, as opposed to oil, is preferred, as the roux will not separate on cooking, like it typically would if using olive oil. Fats that are solid at room temperature will work best.
- Thicken Curry With Tomato Paste: Tomato paste is a concentrated form of tomatoes that have been cooked, strained and then cooked or baked again, before being stored. According to a December 2013 study published in the journal Food Control, researchers found that the variety of tomato used, as well as the conditions under which it is processed, affect the overall quality of the tomato paste.
The resulting tomato paste, whether bought at the store or homemade, is typically flavorful and extremely concentrated. Using a tablespoon or two in most recipes is usually sufficient for adding flavor, and to thicken a sauce effectively.
Tomato paste is ideally used to thicken sauce like spaghetti sauce. It can also be used to add flavor in meatloaf, lasagna and, even, pizza bases. According to the USDA, 1 tablespoon of unsalted canned tomato paste provides 3 percent of the recommended daily dose of fiber. It also contains vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E and K.
- Thicken With Arrowroot Flour: Gluten, which is a protein group found in barley, wheat and rye, is a common allergen. It is typically found in dishes and baked goods made using all-purpose flour or cornstarch. However, there are a number of gluten-free flour substitutes.
The Mayo Clinic explains that arrowroot flour is a gluten-free alternative, for recipes that call for cornstarch. It can easily be substituted into recipes that call for a thickening agent, like flour, and can also used as a breading for fried fish or chicken.
Read more: 3 Easy Ways to Thicken a Stew Using Flour
- Thicken Curry by Simmering and Reducing: If you've run out of thickening agents, one of the easiest ways to thicken a sauce or curry is by simply reducing it. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension explains that simmering the sauce over a low to medium heat, for anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes will remove the excess liquid, and thicken the sauce.
It's important to leave the sauce uncovered and to simmer it on a low heat, as opposed to boiling the sauce. Boiling a sauce can cause the liquid to evaporate too quickly and burn the bottom of the sauce or curry, altering the overall flavor.
- Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: "How to Make Roux"
- Food Control: "Determination of Quality Parameters of Tomato Paste Using Guided Microwave Spectroscopy"
- USDA: “Nutrition Facts for Canned Tomato Paste"
- Mayo Clinic: “Gluten-Free? Try These Delicious Alternatives to Wheat Flour"
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: “Thickening Your Sauces”