Marsala sauce is a quintessential staple of Italian-American cuisine. Served over meat, potatoes, pasta, or vegetables, it has a rich and savory flavor.
One challenge that chefs face every time that they make a sauce is achieving just the right consistency, thickness, and texture. Marsala sauce is no different.
Thin, watery, or flat Marsala sauce won’t cling to your food as it should, which will not allow you to fully enjoy the rich flavor.
In this article, we will look at a few different techniques for thickening sauces, especially Marsala sauce, keeping in mind the particular taste of Marsala sauce. A thin Marsala sauce no longer needs to be a problem!
What Is Marsala Sauce?
Marsala sauce is a brown sauce made with broth (usually chicken), cream, wine, and mushrooms. The mushrooms give it an earthy flavor, which is enriched by good red wine (hint: always cook with wine that you would want to drink). Fresh herbs such as thyme also add to this delicious sauce.
It is not supposed to be very thick, especially compared to some red sauces, but you certainly don’t want it watery either. Achieving the right consistency is essential to a truly great Marsala sauce.
Choose a Good Recipe
Of course, the key to making a great dish is using a great recipe. Chicken Marsala is a popular Italian dish, so most major cooking sites and many celebrity chefs have recipes for chicken Marsala.
Since chicken Marsala is so popular, there are several variations of it and many techniques. Everyone has their own taste preferences, so you may need to try a couple of different recipes before you settle on one to make regularly.
Part of the fun of cooking is trying different recipes for the same dish, and even mixing and matching. Get familiar with the basics of Marsala sauce, and then make it your own.
Make Sure That You Have Everything You Need
Nothing can derail dinner faster than getting to a mid-point in your recipe only to find out that you don’t have the necessary equipment.
Some Marsala recipes require certain types of pans or other equipment, or special techniques with which you might not be familiar. If you don’t have the right tools, many things can go wrong, including the thickening of the sauce.
It’s always best to prevent problems from arising beforehand. Prepare for any potential issues by being thorough from the beginning.
Follow Your Recipe Carefully
Especially when using a new recipe, you need to follow measurements and directions carefully. The best method to use to measure ingredients is by weight using a food scale.
Deviations from the recipe’s instructions might result in an improperly thickened sauce for a variety of reasons. In addition, if you do change the recipe, you won’t know if your changes were the cause of the sauce’s poor consistency or if it was something else about the recipe.
Once you’re more familiar with chicken Marsala, there is much more flexibility in cooking a dish such as this one than there is in baking. Chefs of all skill levels can adjust ingredients and cook times without jeopardizing the dish.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when you do this with chicken Marsala, and one thing that you must do is maintain the ratio between liquids and starches.
This ratio determines the thickness of your dish, so if you add more water (or certain other wet ingredients), you’ll need to add flour or another thickening agent in an equal proportion.
Finally, before we look at how to thicken a thin sauce, one more item is worth mentioning: you do not want to try to thicken sauce by removing some of the liquid. For one thing, this is ineffective since the ingredients are already mixed, and the remaining sauce will not be any thicker.
What’s more, you’re going to lose more than just water; you’ll scoop out lots of tasty little bits. This will not only fail to thicken your sauce but it will also make it less flavorful.
Method One: Simmer and Reduce the Sauce
One of the simplest ways to thicken a sauce is to just give it more time. More than likely, your recipe will call for you to bring the heat up and then reduce it to low and simmer the sauce uncovered for a period of time.
But what happens if the timer goes off and your sauce is still watery?
Even if the prescribed amount of time in the recipe has passed, you have the option of simmering longer, of course. This is an especially good technique if you have noticed that the sauce is reducing and thickening, just not quite enough yet.
By keeping the sauce over low heat for a longer amount of time, the heat is able to distribute evenly, cooking all of the sauce ingredients all the way through. In addition, it allows plenty of time for the sauce to thicken.
As the sauce remains hot, more and more of the water in the sauce is converted to moisture. Little by little, as the water evaporates, the loss of liquid thickens the sauce; the sauce reduces in volume, hence the name of the technique.
Method Two: Use Cornstarch or Flour
Cornstarch and flour can both be used as a thickening agent. Your recipe may call for one of these ingredients; be sure to measure and prepare carefully, and add to the sauce slowly, stirring as you do.
If not, they can still be used to thicken your sauce. Cornstarch is twice as effective as flour, so you can use less.
Never add plain cornstarch or flour to a recipe at this stage. Mix with water and then add the resulting mixture to your sauce.
Method Three: Use Another Thickening Agent
These days, there are so many choices for thickening agents in addition to flour and cornstarch. Some people may prefer to use potato starch or tapioca.
Some flour substitutes such as almond meal, spelt flour, or rice flour may also work.
Method Four: Practice Your Roux, If Your Recipe Calls for One
If your recipe calls for you to make a roux as one of the first steps, this means that the roux is what will thicken your sauce. But before you dive in, take time to ask yourself if you have ever made a roux before?
Making a roux (a combination of flour and fat, usually butter) is a complicated undertaking. Most chefs get it wrong the first time.
Before you start the roux for your chicken Marsala, practice once or twice to get the technique right. On the bright side, a roux can really add flavor and depth to your chicken Marsala once you learn how to make one.
If All Else Fails…
If you try and try and just can’t get your sauce to the right consistency, you might not be your problem; it might be your recipe.
Regardless, it’s always a good idea to try out a few different recipes for Marsala sauce until you find a favorite. Maybe you are better with certain ingredients or techniques.
Whatever the reason, once you properly thicken it, Marsala sauce is sure to become part of your regular dinner rotation. Buon appetito!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.