There is a good reason why the restaurant industry has bestowed a special name upon the cook who creates sauces. Not just anyone can become a saucier in the same way that not just anyone can appreciate the talking moon on The Mighty Boosh. Okay, not really; I confess that I just really wanted to work The Mighty Boosh into an article.
Fixing a sauce that has gone bad is an art, but it is also an art form easier to learn than Surrealism that doesn’t suck. The first rule of fixing a bad sauce is to remember that in almost all cases, no matter how bad you’ve screwed it up, it can be fixed. As long as you get the skinny on some well-kept secrets. Let’s say that your sauce is too thin, for instance. A number of different items can be brought into play to thicken a sauce that has become too thin.
Cornstarch is the club soda of cooking on your stovetop. Many, many problems can be solved with cornstarch and a sauce that has gotten too thin is one of them. Add a little cornstarch into the sauce along with about 1/4th of a cup of cold water. Stir the cornstarch into the existing thin sauce and allow to simmer for five minutes. Make sure you check back at the five minute mark as there seems to be some kind of alchemical magic involved. Leave the cornstarch simmering for too long and the starch begins to break down and you’re right back where you started.
Puree of Tomato
That’s pronounced toe-MA-toe. Stir in some pureed tomato into a too-thin sauce about one tablespoon at a time until the sauce thickens to a consistency you want.
Rice can be brought in to save a sauce that has gone Lindsay Lohan on you. Let the sauce simmer with a couple of spoonfuls of cooked rice for about 10 minutes. Pour the whole thing of sauce into a blender and set on puree. You’ve got instant thickened sauce, my friends.
But, wait a minute, Tim, I hear you saying. (I really can hear you; weird!) My problem is never that the sauce is too thin. My sauces always come out with the consistency of a slushy or slurpee. What can I do to fix a sauce that is too thick?
If you don’t have a few cans of chicken or beef stock on hand at all times, you clearly are not a kitchen person and probably should not even be attempting to make a sauce. The easiest and quickest and most delicious way to thin a sauce is by adding some stock gradually until the sauce finally reaches your goal consistency.
As a teetotaler, I would never add wine to a too-thick sauce, but it is an option for most. Add white wine to lightly colored sauces and red wine to darkly colored sauces. Let the new addition simmer for up to 10 minutes so that the different flavors can combine to a point where that awful wine taste doesn’t destroy the delicious sauce taste. (Or vice versa if, for some unknown reason, you find wine delicious.) If you want to make sure that alcohol is appropriately evaporated before you toss in the wine, simmer it in a separate pot before adding to the thick sauce.
Use light cream, heavy cream or even a milk substitute if you want to thin out a too-thick sauce. Just make sure that you warm up the cream over a medium heat so that you don’t scorch it and ruin the taste forever. When you add cream, it’s normal for the color of the sauce to lighten up, but if the sauce is very acidic you need to beware of the potential for curdling. Cream sauces tend to break down when kept over a flame for too long.