One of the most basic cooking skills to master, along with seasoning and chopping, is thickening a soup. If you like something heartier and creamier, but not exactly a stew, there are plenty of alternatives to achieve the perfect texture.
While reducing the amount of soup might help, some ingredients may be overcooking. We've rounded up the best tricks for thickening a soup. It's as simple as using the soup itself, using starchy ingredients — beans, potatoes, rice, flour or cornstarch — or adding dairy. There's no reason to sit down to a bowl of watery soup when using one of our recommended methods.
Use the soup itself
Perhaps the easiest way to thicken a soup is to puree it. In other words, pureed soups are the easiest to thicken. Because often the pureeing itself is enough to achieve the desired consistency.
Pureeing just part of the soup can work wonders. Scoop out a portion of the soup, puree in a blender or in a separate container with an immersion blender, then whisk the pureed portion back into the saucepan. This method works with almost any soup and requires no additional ingredients or thickeners.
With potatoes, rice, pasta or beans
If your pureed soup is still too thin, you can thicken it even further by simply adding a neutral starch:
- Use boiled potatoes, rice, stale bread, mashed potatoes, or frozen hash browns. Simply simmer briefly to release the starch, then puree. But don't overdo it. Starch absorbs liquid as it heats, so it's easy for your soup to become too thick if you add too much starch, especially if it's given time to stand. Start with a small amount, puree, return to the pot and reheat. Then check the spices and consistency. Red-brown potatoes work best for this approach, as they don't retain their firmness for long.
- Use potatoes, but don't puree the soup. Cut the raw potatoes into chunks and allow their natural starch to soak into the cooking liquid. The soup gets more body and creaminess. This technique unfolds its effect after just 20 minutes of simmering. You should then be able to easily pierce the potato pieces with a fork. White, red, and Yukon Gold potatoes work best for this method.
- Use yams and yams the same way you would regular potatoes or other starchy vegetables like carrots, beets, squash, parsnips, peas, beans, or corn. Celery root, peeled, diced, and cooked will add a wonderfully mild flavor and aroma of celery to your soup.
- Use rice, pasta, beans, or grains like oats and barley to naturally thicken the mass. The starch of a handful of uncooked rice soaks into the cooking liquid as it cooks. When the rice is tender, your soup is ready. This method works better than adding cooked rice, although that works in a pinch, especially if you're pureeing. Starchy rice like Arborio—the kind used to make risotto—is a particularly powerful thickener. Uncooked grains like oats and barley also work the same way, as do dried pasta and quick-cooking legumes like lentils. Just let the soup simmer until it's soft.
Use flour, cornstarch or arrowroot
Sometimes the ingredients alone aren't enough to thicken your soup sufficiently. In this case, flour, cornstarch, or another thickener like arrowroot may work best, especially if you don't have a blender tool:
- Use flour by cooking it with butter or oil to make a roux. This works best at the beginning of cooking, as you will be making the roux at the bottom of the pot and then making the soup from there. Since many soup recipes start with sautéing onions and other spices in oil or fat, you can simply sprinkle the flour into the cooked spices and their fat and mix into a paste. Then stir in the hot broth or broth.
- Use mania buttera dough made of equal parts by weight of softened butter and flour that you knead together and then gradually stir into your soup. The fat helps bind the starch to the liquid, so it's not just clumps of flour in the soup. This technique, or adding a roux prepared in a separate pot, works best for already-cooked soups that need a thickener. Make a roux or beurre mania using non-wheat flours like rice flour, as well as your favorite gluten-free flour blends.
- Use cornstarch, another powerful thickener. Mix a small amount of cornstarch with cold water in a bowl and stir until you get a homogeneous mass. Slowly and carefully stir the broth into the soup. If you add the slurry directly to the hot liquid, it will clump and may not dissolve. Use arrowroot and tapioca starches like cornstarch. Note, however, that cornstarch is less effective in tomato-based soups, while arrowroot can add an uncomfortable texture to milk-based soups.
use of dairy products
Adding a small amount of full cream, sour cream, or yogurt is often enough to thicken a soup without necessarily turning it into a dairy-based soup:
- Watch for curdling, which occurs when the heat of the soup or the acidity in the soup causes the milk proteins or whey to separate from the water and fat. In general, the higher the fat content, the better the dairy product will pair with a hot soup without curdling. Therefore, cream is better than cream or milk.