Everyone knows what a good pasta dish is like. It has a thick sauce that completely coats each pasta piece, giving you complete flavor with every bite. Good pasta even looks great too. But what if you have watery tomato sauce?
For many home cooks, this is what they aspire to get, but plenty will fail and end up with a sauce that’s too watery and doesn’t coat the pasta properly. Well, it’s time to learn what’s going wrong with your technique and what you can do to improve your pasta dish next time.
To thicken your pasta sauce, you should simmer it in a wide pan over low heat. This allows for maximum evaporation and will therefore thicken the sauce faster. Alternatively, you can thicken it by adding the starchy pasta and some pasta water and cook it for a few minutes over medium-high heat.
Pasta and the pasta sauce work together to make a great dish, so if one isn’t right, the whole dish won’t be as good as it should be. If you’re struggling with a watery pasta sauce, you just need to figure out how to thicken it so you can make great pasta dishes.
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to make good pasta. It’s just poor techniques that make most people fail. As long as you know the appropriate techniques, you should have no problem making any basic pasta dish.
The Problem With Watery Pasta Sauce
Having the pasta sauce slip off your pasta is far from ideal. You want your sauce to cling to the pasta and stay on it until you put it into your mouth, but this won’t happen if it’s watery/too runny.
If it’s not thick enough, the pasta sauce will most likely slide off the pasta to the bottom of your plate, leaving you to try and mop up the sauce. This is especially bad if you’re eating something like spaghetti. It’s a terrible experience when you’ve got plenty of spaghetti noodles, but they have minimal sauce on them, so all you’re getting is plain pasta.
To sum it up, if your pasta sauce is too watery, it’ll only create a puddle of soup beneath your pasta, which ruins the whole pasta eating experience.
How To Thicken Watery Tomato Sauce
Fortunately, thickening pasta sauce is very easy and you won’t have to take any difficult or awkward steps to do it. There are a few basic techniques that work wonders to thicken the sauce to your desired consistency.
The methods below are purely directed towards pasta sauce that’s already cooking. They should be used to thicken the pasta sauce with either the least additional effort or the quickest time possible.
Longer Reducing Time
The most basic and easiest method to thicken your pasta sauce is to simply give it more time. With more time, you can simmer the sauce for longer, which will allow it to thicken more.
By bringing the sauce up to a boil, then dropping it back down to low heat, so the simmers away, you’re allowing the excess water to evaporate and therefore thickening the sauce. The longer you let the sauce simmer, the more water will evaporate, so the thicker the sauce will get.
Make sure to always keep the lid off your pan so the water can evaporate properly.
To help speed up the reduction process, it’s best to use a wide pan. This creates more surface area, so more water can evaporate and therefore thicken the sauce faster.
Finish Cooking The Pasta In The Sauce
Providing that you don’t rinse your pasta after boiling (which you should never do for a hot pasta dish), it will have a good coating of starch on it. This starch is going to really help you out if your sauce is too watery.
Instead of serving the pasta and the sauce separately (sauce poured over the pasta), you should take the pasta out of the water just before it’s al dente and put it in the sauce to finish cooking. By doing this, you’re allowing the starch on the pasta to thicken the sauce and help it coat the pasta.
Over the course of a few minutes, you should notice that the consistency gets better and becomes more like the pasta sauce you expect. Read more about cooking pasta in the sauce.
Add Starchy Pasta Water To The Watery Tomato Sauce
Following on from the previous method, you can get even better results by simply using some of the pasta water. Since the pasta has been cooked in it, there will be a lot of starch released into the water, making it very good for thickening watery sauces.
Before draining the pasta, simply reserve a cup or two of pasta water. This will then be added to the sauce, little by little until it thickens up well. You should add the pasta and a splash of the water, then cook it for a minute or two and add more as necessary.
To get better results, you can boil the pasta in less water to concentrate the starch more. This will mean that you need less water to thicken the sauce, so you don’t have to worry about adding too much more water. If you’re doing this, make sure to stir the pasta more often so it doesn’t stick during boiling.
Cornstarch Slurry to Fix Watery Tomato Sauce
Instead of using the starchy pasta water, you can just use cornstarch to thicken it. Although it isn’t traditional, it still does a great job at improving the sauce’s consistency.
All you have to do is mix equal parts cornstarch and cold water until the cornstarch is completely dissolved, then pour small amounts of it in the sauce.
Do be conservative with the cornstarch slurry though. You don’t want to add too much and over thicken the sauce. By adding just a few splashes at a time, you’ll be able to get a perfect consistency.
To use it properly, you should pour a splash of the cornstarch slurry in, let it cook for a few minutes, then add more as necessary. Repeat this process until the sauce is at your desired thickness.
Read more about how to thicken spaghetti sauce here.