A deliciously creamy cheese sauce is an excellent addition to pasta, can be used as a dip, or served as a side with other meals.
And requiring just a limited number of ingredients, cheese sauce is a homemade favorite.
As much as we love a good cheese sauce, there are few foods as disappointing as a thin and runny cheese sauce.
It slips straight off the pasta, and lacks the luscious thickness that makes cheese sauce so tasty. But don’t worry!
It is possible to save a thin cheese sauce, and there are several methods you can potentially employ.
You can thicken cheese sauce by adding thickening agents such as cornstarch and egg yolk, or by giving your sauce some extra time to simmer.
Learn more about these methods, and how to use them to fix your cheese sauce, with this guide.
Thicken Your Cheese Sauce With A Slow Simmer
You’ve just made up your cheese sauce, but it seems a little thin. The first thing to do in this situation is to simmer your sauce.
This method can remove the excess liquid, and because you aren’t adding extra ingredients, it won’t affect the taste.
A runny cheese sauce is the result of too much liquid. A slow simmer will remove this excess moisture, leaving behind a thicker cheese sauce that’s still rich with flavor.
To begin, you need to get the temperature just right. Too low, and the cheese sauce won’t simmer properly, and the moisture won’t evaporate.
Too high, and the sauce will burn while the dairy separates. You need a steady but light stream of bubbles.
As the sauce simmers, it’s important to stir frequently. This will prevent the base of the sauce from burning, and ensure the excess liquid evaporates evenly.
Don’t look away from your sauce! It only takes a few moments sitting on too high a heat for the dairy to start causing problems.
Once the dairy has separated, sometimes the only thing you can do is throw the cheese sauce away, and start again.
After a couple of minutes simmering, you should see your sauce start to thicken.
As you’re stirring frequently, it should be easy enough to spot when the sauce has thickened up.
This method is easy, but it does require some patience. Don’t rush the simmering, or you might completely ruin the sauce.
Take it slow, keep an eye on your sauce, and you should get the results you want.
Thicken Cheese Sauce With A Spoonful Of Starch
A spoonful of starch is one of the most popular methods for thickening a runny cheese sauce.
Starch is easy to use, reasonably easy to adjust, and most home chefs will already have the ingredients to hand.
Cornstarch and flour are two popular options for thickening a cheese sauce.
They both work well, and the chances are you have at least one of them in your pantry.
Using starch to thicken a cheese sauce isn’t quite as simple as throwing a spoonful of flour into your runny sauce — but it isn’t that much more difficult either!
For this method, all you need is your chosen starch, and some cold water.
Begin by whisking a spoonful or two of your chosen starch with roughly ¼ cup of water.
It should form a slurry. If the mixture seems too thick, add more water until you’re happy with the consistency.
With your starch and water mixture ready, it’s time to add it to your cheese sauce. It’s important to take things slowly.
Otherwise, you might end up with a gloopy sauce that has a strong taste of starch.
Add a teaspoon of the slurry, stir it into the sauce, and let it simmer for around five minutes. Check the thickness of your sauce.
Hopefully, it should be just thick enough. It still seems a little runny, add another teaspoon of slurry, and simmer again.
This method is super easy, and if you take it slowly, it shouldn’t affect the overall taste of your cheese sauce.
And it doesn’t just work for cheese! A starch slurry can be used to thicken all kinds of sauces, from soups, to stews, to curries.
Thicken Cheese Sauce With An Egg Yolk
Egg yolk, like starch, can be used to thicken a cheese sauce.
It’s a slightly less common method than adding starch, and also less versatile — don’t start adding egg yolks to any random curry!
However, it can work wonders in a cheese sauce.
Egg yolk not only thickens a cheese sauce, but it also adds to the richness.
By adding egg yolk, you can transform a dull and runny cheese sauce into something thick and luxurious.
So, how do you do it?
To start with, you don’t want to just crack an egg into your sauce.
You only need the yolk, and you can save the white for adding to omelets, pancakes, or meringues.
You also don’t want to add the yolk straight to the sauce, as this can cause it to scramble.
Instead, separate your egg yolk into a bowl. Whisk the yolk until smooth.
Turn the heat beneath the sauce to low, and slowly pour the sauce into the bowl with the yolk, whisking as you go. Roughly one cup of sauce should be enough.
By adding sauce to the egg slowly, we temper the yolk. This gradually raises the temperature of the yolk, while slightly cooling the sauce.
It prevents the sudden temperature shock from scrambling the egg and splitting the sauce.
Now, slowly add the yolk and sauce mixture back into the main sauce. Keep the temperature low, and whisk continuously as you combine the two.
Depending on how much sauce you’re making, you may not need to add an entire yolk. Check the thickness of your sauce frequently, to make sure you get it just right.
Thicken Your Cheese Sauce Using More Cheese
Adding more cheese is an excellent way to rescue many disappointing dishes, but it’s a particularly useful trick if you’re trying to thicken a runny cheese sauce.
Cheese makes an excellent thickening agent, and as you’re adding more cheese to a cheese dish, it can intensify the flavor.
And if you’re making cheese sauce, then you probably have some extra cheese to hand!
We recommend using shredded cheese, so you can easily control the thickness level. However, diced cheese can also work, and save you a little prep time.
Place your cheese sauce over a low heat. Begin to add shredded cheese slowly, only a small handful at a time.
Stir constantly, so the cheese melts evenly and distributes throughout the sauce.
Once the cheese has melted, stir for a few minutes, and check the thickness.
If your sauce is still too runny, repeat the process until you’re happy with the result.
It’s much easier to control the amount of cheese you’re adding if you use shredded cheese, but if you choose to use diced cheese, make sure the cubes are quite small.
If you do find your sauce gets too thick, whisking through a spoonful of milk can help you get the consistency you want.
We recommend checking the flavor frequently if you use this method.
Cheese is only likely to enhance a cheese sauce, but if you’re using a particularly strong cheese, you might find it becomes too powerful.
Thicken Your Cheese Sauce By Adding More Béchamel Sauce
Béchamel sauce is the traditional base of a cheese sauce. And if your cheese sauce is too runny, adding extra of that béchamel base can thicken it up!
To start, you need to make up some béchamel sauce. As you’ll know from making your original sauce, béchamel doesn’t take long to cook, but it can be tricky to get right.
A basic béchamel sauce is made using butter, flour, and milk. Begin by gently heating your milk. You don’t want it to boil, you just want to take away the chill.
When the milk is warm, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once the butter has melted, add the flour.
Whisk the flour and butter mixture consistently, for roughly two minutes, until it starts to gently color, and small bubbles are forming.
If the roux is browning too quickly, remove it from the heat, and keep on whisking.
Gradually whisk in the milk, until the sauce is smooth and all the ingredients are incorporated.
Raise the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook the mixture until it forms the desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper.
Slowly add your béchamel sauce to your thin cheese sauce.
Only add a small amount at a time, and let the sauce simmer so the béchamel can be incorporated properly.
Double-Check The Recipe
The tips above are for fixing a cheese sauce that hasn’t quite turned out the way you wanted it to.
All these methods can be used for thickening a cheese sauce, and having these methods in your back pocket will ensure you never have to start your sauce again.
Even experienced chefs will find a cheese sauce goes runny from time to time!
But when your cheese sauce does go wrong, it’s important to always recheck the recipe.
Errors such as a thin sauce are often caused because we didn’t read the recipe properly, or failed to follow the instructions.
Take a moment to check the recipe, and see how the method stated compares to what you did.
A lack of patience is a common reason for a cheese sauce going wrong.
Turning up the heat to rush through a step, adding everything in one go, and not giving the sauce time to simmer can all result in a cheese sauce that’s too thick, too thin, or tastes like flour.
Rushing through a recipe can often result in things taking even longer, as you have to go back and fix the problem.
Instead, give your sauce the time it needs to develop properly. You’ll be much happier with the final result.
Tips And Tricks For Creating An Excellent Cheese Sauce
Want a cheese sauce that will impress? Take a look at these tips and tricks.
The first step to an excellent cheese sauce is perfecting your béchamel base.
Béchamel sauce is considered one of the five French mother sauces (along with velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato sauce).
It can be used as a base for many other sauces, or on its own in savory dishes.
Béchamel is surprisingly quick to make, but it’s also quick to go wrong. You have to watch it the entire time, or you’ll find it’s gone thick and lumpy.
Don’t let the butter or flour burn when making the roux by whisking constantly, and removing the roux from the heat if it cooks too quickly.
However, the flour must be cooked, or it will impart a starchy taste on the sauce.
Once you’ve added the milk to your roux, give the sauce time to simmer. This will allow it to thicken.
Stir constantly, to avoid burning the base.
Use shredded cheese when making your cheese sauce, not diced.
Shredded cheese melts quicker, reducing the risk of boiling your sauce as you wait for cheese to melt.
The heat should be kept low to medium throughout the cooking process.
Resist the urge to turn the flame high, or you will scorch the base and end up with a sauce that’s all the wrong consistency.
Patience is important when making a cheese sauce. Let it thicken and come together in its own time.
With this in mind, sometimes it’s best to remove the sauce from the heat as you add the cheese.
The sauce only needs to have enough latent heat to melt the cheese.
Final Thoughts: Make A Cheese Sauce You Love
A thin cheese sauce isn’t the end of the world (or even the end of dinner). There are many ways to quickly and easily adjust the texture of a cheese sauce, without altering the taste.
Cornstarch and flour are both common choices, and easy ways to thicken a variety of sauces.
Others prefer to use an egg yolk to thicken a cheese sauce, although it’s best to temper the yolk to avoid a scramble.
Alternatively, add more of your cheese sauce ingredients. Extra cheese and more of the béchamel base are two ways to thicken the sauce.
Or practice patience, and allow the sauce to simmer away the excess liquid.
You might find all five methods come in handy at some point or another, but the best way to thicken a cheese sauce is to pay close attention to the recipe.
Once you’ve substituted a runny cheese sauce for a delicious cheese sauce, you won’t mind making the extra effort!
Frequently Asked Questions
Will Cheese Sauce Thicken As It Cools?
It is a common question that cheese sauce cooks have is whether the sauce will thicken as it cools. The answer is that it will, but it will take some time. The sauce will thicken over the course of a few hours, but will continue to thicken as it cools.
What Should I Do If My Sauce Is Watery?
If you’re making a sauce and, you notice that it is not thick and creamy, but watery. If your sauce is too thin, try adding a cornstarch slurry.
To make a slurry, mix one tablespoon of cornstarch with three tablespoons of cold water. Then, mix it with the sauce and cook for about two minutes until thickened.
Why Won’t My Sauce Thicken With Cornstarch?
This question is often asked because many cooks believe that cornstarch is the answer to thickening sauces. However, this can be quite the opposite. The high starch content in cornstarch actually inhibits the sauce from thickening.
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