Like you, I have also gone through myriad spaghetti sauce recipes through the years. I have tried canned and jarred pasta sauces. Of course, I have also made my own.
The most common dilemma among home cooks like me is how to thicken pasta sauce. Yes, you have a sauce that has all the essential ingredients that make your pasta sing. Yet, when you scoop it and pour it over your noodles, your sauce runs to the bottom of the bowl or platter.
The sauce is like soup, waiting to be slurped when you eat all the pasta above it.
Well, the good news is that I am here to help put some life into your pasta sauce. I will make sure that you will get a thick sauce the next time you make a batch. It will be flavorful and thick.
As the cook in our home, I always make sure I make a huge batch of spaghetti for guests at gatherings such as children's parties. Yet, even if I have done this so many times before, I still occasionally end up with watery sauce.
Although I have been using American pasta sauce recipes since I started cooking, it is still challenging to perfect. For me, it is so much easier to find traditional English, French, or Italian recipes and use them as a reliable basis. All you need to do is make some changes to fit your taste.
If you research online or consult a friend, you can always get a sure answer right away. There is usually something in a recipe that shows you how to do it when trying to thicken the sauce to thicken sauces.
You may have encountered this problem whenever you tried to recreate your favorite ranch or barbecue sauces. Every state has its preferred version of these sauces, just for clarification.
If you go into the cities, each of them may have its sauces as well. So, what you make is usually based on the area you're in. Your sauce may be well-accepted in your area but rejected in other parts of your state.
The same happens with spaghetti sauce. In truth, the American style of this sauce is entirely different from the Italian sauce or marinara. This recipe differs in every kitchen.
How to thicken the sauce?
You can use two techniques in thickening sauces. Either add starch or decrease the amount of liquid.
The two methods mentioned work in thickening every sauce that you want.
1 Reduction method
- Lessen the liquid by adding just a small amount in the beginning. Over time, the liquid will boil off.
- This method, called reduction, is the most straightforward technique. This process involves enhancing liquid foods such as soups, sauces, and stock by boiling or simmering over a specific period.
Remember: It is best to remove your meats and vegetables from your sauce first before starting the thickening method.
2 Adding starch
- You can also add a thicker liquid, such as milk, instead of plain water. This can work and add starches like mashed potatoes, flour, pasta water, cornstarch, or breadcrumbs.
You can use these two techniques at the same time. You are cooking starches first to remove the starchy flavors. You then boil off more of the liquid in your sauce as you add in the starch.
Another way to thicken your pasta sauce is to add tomato paste. This thick tomato additive if highly effective in thickening tomato-based sauces as well.
Tomato paste is extremely thick tomato sauce, after all. Adding this delicious paste into your pasta sauce, you add more tomato solids without adding even more liquid. As a result, you thicken your sauce.
Thicken tomato sauce without tomato paste
The sauce you use for spaghetti is not that much different from other sauces when it comes to thickening methods.
Here are some techniques that you can use to thicken your sauce without tomato paste:
1 Scoop some pasta water into your sauce.
The water from cooking your pasta has a lot of starches. This makes it a potent agent for thickening sauces. Even so, you don't need to add a lot of it into your pasta sauce right away. Just a small amount will do.
2 Add some cornstarch
The neutral flavor of cornstarch allows it to thicken your sauce without incorporating a starchy taste. You don't even need to add to any oil to activate it.
Just stir a small amount of cornstarch into some tepid water to make a slurry. Add the slurry into your sauce and watch it thicken before your eyes.
Making a cornstarch slurry
- When you use this method, remember the 1:1 basic ratio of your water and cornstarch.
- Mix them until smooth. Add this cornstarch slurry a teaspoon after the other. Wait for about a minute until you reach your desired thickness and richness.
Take note: Cornstarch makes your sauce thick very quickly. Just give it time to do its magic before you decide to add more.
3 Make a simple roux
When you say "roux," you speak of flour and fat cooked for a short period. This has been used as a thickener for sauces and soups. Roux provides a nutty flavor and a silky body to the sauce.
When you make a roux, it's easy. It's a common technique in thickening pizza sauce. Though it takes some effort, a bit of practice can help you make your perfect roux.
How to Make Roux
You need a few minutes to make a roux. The proportions are always the same—one part all-purpose flour and one part fat (butter or oil).
Remember the proportions of whether you make a small amount for one dish or a huge batch for storing. Using a kitchen scale makes this easy. If you don't have a scale, you need to use measuring spoons or cups.
- Here's how to make a small batch
Get a saucepan, and in it, heat two tablespoons of fat or oil on medium heat.
- Put a pinch of flour into the oil. Your oil is ready when it starts to bubble because of the flour.
- You need 3 ½ tablespoons of all-purpose flour to create a thick paste, similar to cake frosting's consistency.
- Keep whisking until the roux bubbles gently and cooks to your desired shade. Just cook low and slow. Never allow your roux to bubble up quickly. If this happens, it will burn.
4 Add-In Your Mashed Potatoes
It may sound a bit strange, but it works just like regular cornstarch or flour. Potatoes are filled with starch. If you have come cooked potatoes, mash them, and blend them into your pasta sauce. With mashed potatoes, you can thicken your sauce and give it more flavor at the same time.
5 Reduce your sauce
Reducing your homemade spaghetti sauce is possibly your most preferred method because it is straightforward. If you let your sauce simmer for minutes, a lot of water will evaporate as it boils lightly.
This technique will also help the spices and herbs develop in your sauce more. Any starches that are present in your sauce can activate readily. When you use this method, you don't even have to worry about cooking times. Twenty to thirty minutes can already do a lot to your sauce.
Reducing Sauce Like a Pro
You can reduce your sauce more quickly with just a simple trick!
Forget about increasing the temperature or waiting a long time for your sauce to reduce. You can use a shallow pan or a wider pot.
- Using a larger surface area, you reduce the distance between the heat and the body of your sauce. This allows the heat to heat the entire batch of the sauce more quickly and effectively, allowing your sauce to thicken up as you simmer.
- You don't have to get a fancy pan to reduce your pasta sauce. You can use a frying pan, sauté pan, or a stockpot to do the job. Remember to increase the surface area, and the reduction time will shorten.
How to thicken homemade spaghetti sauce
This is the most awaited part when I must share sauce secret with you. It's not that much at all. It would be best if you combined the techniques I mentioned above to thicken the sauce for your spaghetti.
- Add in a small amount of roux or cornstarch into your sauce.
- Then, add in a bit of tomato paste to thicken the sauce more and enhance its flavor.
- Simmer and stir your sauce for about ten minutes.
- This will wow your guests the next time they taste your pasta sauce.
Don't worry if this combination doesn't work the first time correctly. You can always repeat the steps.
Never forget to taste your spaghetti sauce as you work on it. Starchiness is never good in sauces. While they absorb the flavors is you put them in small amounts, you will taste the starch if you put too much.
If your sauce gets too overwhelmed by the thickening agents, you can restore the balance by adding tomatoes, garlic, and spices.
You should not worry at all if you cannot follow any of the methods given above. The food universe is versatile. You can very well discover more ways to thicken your pasta sauce the right way.
How to thicken watery spaghetti sauce adding other ingredients:
1 Using Breadcrumbs to Thicken Sauces
The only issue here is the texture. Breadcrumbs tend to give some more chew into your sauce as it thickens. Just purchase a bag of breadcrumbs from your local grocery store. A large bag can help thicken a big batch of sauce. As you add your breadcrumbs into your sauce, make sure you stir. This will help distribute the breadcrumbs evenly.
2 Using Cheese to Make A Thick Spaghetti Sauce
You can add a variety of cheeses into your pasta sauce to help thicken it. This method goes well with sauces for spaghetti. If you want to thicken a type of sauce that goes well with cheese, use cheese to thicken it. Also, see to it that you get a high quality of cheese.
For spaghetti sauces, you can incorporate cheddar, cream cheese, or parmesan. Add in your cheese of choice by grating the cheese and then adding it into your pasta sauce. When the cheese is in your sauce, you will thicken the sauce more as you stir it over low flame.
Since I was a child, I have always found spaghetti to be a wholesome, fun, and comforting meal. You can serve it at gatherings or stuck into it alone. You can even make a lot of sauce and then set it aside if you want to have spaghetti again at a later time.
Of course, ending up with a runny pasta sauce is always problematic in making a big batch. It's a good thing to quickly thicken your spaghetti sauce with the given techniques and end up with a fantastic meal.