After investing your time, effort, and ingredients in the kitchen, a thin and watery curry is very disheartening to see and eat. Fortunately, it is not impossible to salvage a thin curry and achieve the perfect saucy consistency. Here are some reasons why your curry is thin and some ways to fix it that I have found useful.
Insufficient cooking time, adding excess liquid, simmering with the lid on, and using frozen ingredients may lead to a thin curry. To thicken the curry, simmer it longer, or stir in a starchy slurry, tomato paste, starchy vegetables, full-fat yogurt, cream, coconut, dry lentils, legumes, or ground-up nuts.
When your tikka masala ends up looking like minestrone, you know there is a problem!
Did your curry end up a little too thin and more watery than expected? The meat and veggies all floating in a pool of liquid rather than being coated in a creamy sauce.
This is a common curry conundrum that can be solved when you know what went wrong and learn the methods to thicken it up. All of which I go into in this article.
Why Your Curry Is Thin And Watery
The perfect consistency of a great curry is important. Ideally, the curry sauce should be thin enough to spread and absorb into the rice and thick enough to coat the meat and vegetables in the dish. A variety of factors can cause a thin and watery curry:
Too Much Liquid
It might be as simple as you putting too much liquid in your curry. The liquid will dilute the sauce quickly, so it’s important to use a proportional amount to your recipe. It’s much easier to add more liquid than remove it, so go slow! Avoid thin liquids like watery canned tomatoes and thin coconut milk – use the thick stuff. This can make a bland curry – see some more of my tips on avoiding bland curry.
Not Enough Base Ingredients
The combination of onion, ginger, garlic, and tomato base is the prime thickening agent in most curries They need to be sautéed and cooked thoroughly to form a paste. This is what gives your curry body and is the building block to a great curry. So use lots of these base ingredients to form the sauce.
Leaving The Lid On The Pot During Simmering
Covering the curry during the simmering process will trap excess moisture and steam, adding more liquid to the dish. For a perfectly thick and creamy sauce, cook the curry without the lid to allow the water to evaporate more easily.
Insufficient Cooking Time
In a hurry to tuck into that curry? The aroma of a simmering curry is truly irresistible, but if you remove it from the heat as it reaches a boil, the sauce is guaranteed to be thin and watery. Allow the curry to simmer on low heat until the liquid reduces and the sauce reaches your preferred consistency.
Adding Frozen Ingredients Directly Into The Curry
Frozen meat or vegetables will defrost and release excess moisture into the curry, resulting in a watery sauce. Try to defrost your ingredients before adding them to the simmering curry. Lots of ingredients are great used in curries when frozen, such as frozen spinach, but you just need to prepare them properly beforehand.
How Do You Fix Thin Curry?
Sauce consistency is key to an authentic, and heart-warming curry. Whether you are at the beginning, middle, or end of the cooking process, a thin and watery curry can be rescued with one of these tried and trusted methods:
Simmer Low And Slow
Good food comes to those who wait! Simmer the curry for another 15-25 minutes to reduce the liquid. Simmer uncovered so that the moisture can evaporate, and make sure the stove is set to low heat to avoid overcooking or drying out the ingredients. This method does not require additional ingredients, and it won’t interfere with the flavor and texture of the dish.
Add A Starchy Slurry
Starches such as rice flour, coconut flour, cornstarch, and arrowroot are excellent thickening agents that work quickly and effectively. For every cup of liquid in the pot, add one tablespoon of starch flour with equal parts cold water to form a slurry. Make sure it has no lumps before proceeding.
Slowly pour the slurry into the curry near the end of the cooking process, constantly stirring to avoid any clumping. Arrowroot is a popular thickening agent for curry, favored for its neutral flavor, heat stability, and its ability to maintain the curry’s quality once frozen.
Add Ground Nuts Or Nut Butter
A handful of finely ground peanuts, cashews, or almonds will thicken and enhance the flavor of the curry sauce. As a speedy alternative, stir in 1-2 tablespoons of smooth nut butter towards the end of cooking. While peanuts complement East and South Asian curries beautifully, almonds and cashews are neutral-tasting options for any dish.
Add Lentils Or Pureed Beans
For a hearty and wholesome thickening option, toss a tablespoon or two of lentils into the dish. These little gems soak up the liquid and swell as they cook, which will thicken and bulk up the curry.
Another simple and effective trick would be to mash or blend a few tablespoons of tinned chickpeas, lentils, or other mild-tasting beans into a paste. Combine this with some of your cooking liquid to form a slurry. Thoroughly mix the bean slurry into the dish.
Adding lentils or bean slurry midway through cooking will enable you to assess and adjust the curry’s texture and consistency.
Add Something Creamy
You can add plain Greek yogurt, heavy cream, or sour cream for a rich and velvety texture. These thickening agents will work particularly well for creamy curries like Korma, Dal Makhani, Tikka Masala, and Thai curry.
Coconut milk and coconut cream are superb vegan and dairy-free options that add a subtle sweetness and luscious depth of flavor to the curry. Stick to full-fat products for optimum results.
Gradually add a little at a time while the curry is on a low simmer. High heat or boiling sauce can cause the dairy thickeners to clump or curdle.
Using cream to thicken curry is possible, provided that it has a high-fat content. Skip the light cream and reach for heavy cream for the best results.
Add Mashed Potatoes Or Pureed Vegetables
A popular and straightforward trick is to mash a few boiled, well-softened potatoes into the curry. The starches will thicken the sauce without interfering with the flavor.
It is also possible to thicken a watery curry with the ingredients it already contains. Remove some of the legumes, vegetables, and a little meat from the dish and blend into a thick puree. Pour the pureed ingredients into the pot and mix until thoroughly combined. This will instantly create a denser sauce.
Add Tomato Paste Or Puree
It is no surprise that the ideal thickening agent for tomato-based curries is… more tomatoes, either in a paste or puree form. Add tomato products early on in the cooking process so that they have time to cook through and blend with the other ingredients. You want to avoid a curry that is too tomatoey so see my tips on reducing that.
Make A Roux
Although not very traditional in Asian cooking, roux (a blend of flour and fat) is a classic and reliable thickener that works.
- Mix in a pan equal parts all-purpose flour and cooking fat such as butter or coconut oil (for every cup of liquid in the curry, use 1-2 tablespoons of flour and fat).
- Cook the mixture separately until smooth, golden, and well combined. Turn off the heat.
- Whisk in the appropriate amount of liquid from the curry and return to the pot, stirring constantly.
Tip: For a gluten-free alternative, use rice or chickpea flour.
How Long Should You Simmer Curry?
Simmering time will depend on the type of curry and cut of meat. Chicken, fish, and lentil curries should simmer for 20-30 minutes. Lamb, beef, and mutton curry will simmer between 1-2 hours until the meat is fork-tender.
The secret to a delicious, creamy, and fragrant curry is patience!
Tough meat that has more connective tissue needs longer to simmer and become tender. These cuts are like lamb shoulder, shanks, or chuck beef. The leaner steak cuts and chicken need much less cooking or become dry.
To avoid overcooked mushy vegetables, only add them towards the end of the cooking process, when the meat is tender and cooked, and the sauce has rendered. Most soft vegetables only need 5-10 minutes of cooking.
Do you simmer curry with the lid on or off? To prevent a thin, watery curry, simmer with the lid off so that excess moisture can easily evaporate and the sauce can become thick and bold in flavor. See some more tips on avoiding a bland curry.
You can always add the lid back on when you have the consistency of sauce that you require. And remember to stir and watch for burning on the pan.
Hopefully, you now know why your curry is so thin. To avoid a watery disappointment, start with finely chopped and sautéed base ingredients, thaw any frozen items, and patiently simmer low and slow, uncovered.
Recover a thin and watery curry with an extended simmering time, or add a starchy slurry, ground nuts, dairy, tomato paste, dry lentils, mashed potatoes, or pureed beans or vegetables.