Slurry is the unsung hero of the kitchen. You've probably been consuming slurry for years without even realizing it and it might even be your favorite part of a dish. How can that be? Well, slurry is essentially a thickening agent and if you love creamy macaroni and cheese or luscious thick gravy, it's really the slurry you're falling for.
It's important to refresh your slurry skills every so often, especially around the holidays, because so many dishes from the gravy to casseroles start with one foundation: a slurry.
What is a slurry?
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In the kitchen, slurry refers to a thin, watery paste made by mixing a liquid - water, broth or wine, usually - with a starch, most commonly cornstarch, flour, arrowroot, potato starch, or tapioca.
What's it used for?
Slurry is used for thickening dishes, especially soups, stews and sauces - a handy skill to pick up now, with Thanksgiving just around the corner. Slurry may be simple to prepare, but it's one of the most important tools in a cook's arsenal. Starches are indispensable when preparing soups and stews, but adding a dry starch directly - say, pouring flour our cornstarch right into the pot or pan - doesn't give the powder a chance to separate, causing lumps to form.
How do you make it?
In a small bowl, start with 1 tbsp. starch per cup of liquid to thicken. Add to the starch an equal amount of cold liquid - a 1:1 ratio of dry to liquid - then stir until it has formed a smooth paste.
What's the best way to use a slurry?
Very slowly. A little bit of slurry goes a long way, and it's easy to add too much too fast - a sure-fire way to make your holiday soup or stew an inedible paste. Start with just a small amount, adding little by little. As you add your slurry, keep whisking! This helps break up any lumps that may start to form.
Don't stop whisking until the slurry is fully combined into the sauce. Once it's thoroughly combined, turn up the heat and start simmering, unlocking the slurry's true thickening potential. Be careful not to heat too long - this can make the starch lose its thickening properties, resulting in a thin, runny sauce.
Tips and Tricks for Your Best Slurry Yet
Different starches are good for different things, especially depending on the dish at hand. The folks at Foodsubs.com created this helpful and exhaustive list of kitchen-ready starches and what they're used for.
For dairy-based dishes, cornstarch is your best choice; arrowroot can get slimy when mixed with milk or milk products.
Arrowroot is best for thickening acidic liquids - cornstarch isn't as effective in highly acidic dishes.
Tapioca and arrowroot give dishes a high gloss, which is great for pie fillings but rather unappetizing and artificial in gravies and sauces. For a low gloss, use cornstarch.
Sauces made with cornstarch get spongy when frozen. If you plan to freeze a soup or stew, pick Tapioca starch or arrowroot instead.
Thickeners don't add much flavor, but if you're worried about your thickener dulling some of the more delicate flavors in your dish, use arrowroot - it has the most neutral taste of starch thickeners.
Tapioca gets thick quickly and at a low temperature. If you plan to thicken a sauce right before serving, it's your best bet.