Here's How to Thicken Stew for Those Warm, Comforting Meals

·3 min read
Photo credit: Ralph Smith/The Pioneer Woman
Photo credit: Ralph Smith/The Pioneer Woman

When the seasons change and a chill fills the air, nothing feeds the soul quite like a thick, hearty bowl of stew. Recipes like Ree Drummond's Sunday night stew or her Instant Pot ancho beef stew with cheesy grits will warm you from the inside out. But what happens if a pot of stew or chili turns out a bit on the thin, runny side? Even the best home cook has stared down into a simmering pot of stew and realized it looked more like soup! Sure, a bowl of soup can be comforting, but a true stew in all its glory should be rich and thick in consistency. If yours isn't quick thick enough, not to worry: Read on to find out how to thicken stew in a few easy ways.

So, how do I make my stew less watery?

Start by cooking your stew without the lid on for a bit longer—this will allow for more of the liquid to evaporate and let the stew reduce. (Cooking with a lid on traps the moisture inside instead of letting it cook off.) However, sometimes a stew has been simmering uncovered for quite some time and it's still too watery, which is when a flour thickener comes in handy.

There are two ways to thicken a stew using flour: The first is to make a slurry, which is a mixture made up of equal parts flour and cold water whisked together until smooth. (Ree uses this trick to thicken her beef stew with mushrooms.) Add the slurry to the stew, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, and then bring the stew to a boil for a few minutes to give the slurry time to work its magic.

The second method involves a combination of equal parts butter and flour, which are mixed together to form a paste—this combo is known as a beurre manie, which is French for “kneaded butter.” Similar to the slurry, stir the beurre manie into the stew and then let it cook for a few minutes to activate and thicken up the liquid. With both the slurry and beurre manie, start with small increments—a few tablespoons or so—and work your way up to more, as needed.

How can I thicken a stew without using flour?

For a gluten-free thickener, make a slurry using a starch like cornstarch, arrowroot powder, chickpea flour or potato starch instead of all-purpose flour. Again, be sure to stir in the slurry to prevent lumps from forming and bring the stew to a boil for at least a minute or so to give the slurry time to work and properly thicken the stew.

How do you thicken stew in a slow-cooker?

Get ahead of a potentially watery stew by propping up your slow-cooker lid using chopsticks or the handle of a wooden spoon at the very end of the cooking time—this lets the moisture escape so the stew can naturally thicken (don't do this before your meat is nice and tender though!). If that fix doesn't work or isn't possible, try pureeing some of the vegetables using an immersion blender or stirring in a slurry for at least the last 30 minutes or so of cooking.

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