We’ve all been there. You're in the middle of making soup, stop to take a sip, and notice the soup is too watery. Disappointed, you wonder, "how can I thicken this soup to make it creamy?"
In this guide, I'll cover the many different techniques used to thicken a soup or stew so that you can find the best method for your own needs.
What Makes a Soup or Stew Thick and Creamy?
Think back to the creamiest soups you've tasted. Cream of mushroom. Broccoli cheddar soup. Gumbo. What ingredients thickened these dishes? Some recipes add in thickeners like cream or flour. Others rely on techniques, like pureeing or mashing, to change the consistency of the soup.
Depending on the use case, you will need to find the most suitable thickener for your liking.
6 Ways to Thicken Soups or Stews
1. Puree the vegetables.
The most straightforward way to thicken soup is to puree the vegetables. Starchy vegetables in particular offer the most creaminess. Try with corn, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, or yams. Blend half (for a chunkier texture) or all of the vegetables and liquid together.
2. Mash beans, lentils, rice, or bread.
Mashing beans, lentils, rice, or bread is a great way to add body to your soup. Cannellini beans, red lentils, yellow lentils, white rice, and stale bread add a lot of heft (and flavor). Rice, lentils, and beans release a lot of starch and naturally thicken soups simply from simmering, but you can also mash half the cooked rice/lentils/beans before adding to the soup for a simple way to thicken your dish.
Alternatively, blend half or all of the soup for a smoother texture.
With bread, I recommend removing the crusts and adding cubes of the soft interior into the soup. You can also puree the soup for a homogenous texture.
3. Add some dairy.
Dairy products lend a lovely velvety texture to your dish. Soups thickened with dairy will not have the same heft as a pureed vegetable base but will still be rich and creamy. In addition, dairy mellows the soup's flavor, effectively balancing a punchy dish. Yogurt and buttermilk provide a bright, tangy contrast.
Unfortunately, dairy curdles liquids when added improperly. To mitigate this risk, stick to higher-fat content products, such as cream or crème fraîche. Lower fat products, like milk, can curdle with high heat, so add them closer to the end of the cooking process when the soup is still warm but not boiling.
Tempering also reduces curdling. Try adding a small amount of the soup into the dairy, constantly whisking and incorporating more soup until it reaches the same temperature as the soup. Then, whisk the dairy mixture into the soup at low heat.
You may notice some recipes call for flour or cornstarch in conjunction with milk or yogurt; these stabilizers reduce the risk of curdling.
To add cream to soup: Slowly whisk the cream into the soup at low or medium-low heat. Typically, the cream shouldn't curdle if added directly at a lower heat, but you can always temper it to be safe. Coconut milk is an excellent dairy-free alternative, but keep in mind high temperatures will cause it to curdle.
To add yogurt or buttermilk: Yogurt and buttermilk can be stirred into a cold soup (like gazpacho) as is. Otherwise, you will need to temper the dairy, then add to the soup on low heat.
4. Add an egg.
You can also thicken liquids with eggs, typical with avgolemono, a creamy lemon soup. Whisk eggs and then temper them by adding small amounts of the hot liquid until the egg mixture reaches the same temperature as the soup. Slowly whisk egg mixture into soup; do not let it boil, or it will curdle.
5. Whisk in a bit of flour or starch.
Both flours and starches help thicken sauces effectively. However, if you add them directly into your soup, they will clump. Instead, whisk a small amount of soup into the starch or flour until it dissolves, then add the resulting mixture into the soup.
This mixture is also known as a "slurry." After incorporating the slurry into the soup, let the liquid boil for a minute to thicken. Note that boiling for too long can cause the mixture to thin out again.
Another way to thicken soup is through a roux, like in cooking gumbo. A roux is a cooked paste created from flour and fat. A similar method, called a beurre manie, involves kneading flour and butter until a paste forms. The paste is then slowly incorporated and whisked into a soup. You will typically need to boil the soup for slurries once you add it in to thicken the mixture properly. A roux often (but not always) needs to be incorporated into a cold liquid to prevent clumping.
6. Blend in some silken tofu.
Silken tofu is a great dairy-free alternative with a relatively neutral flavor. Blend the silken tofu with the soup base until smooth.
Many thickeners require you to whisk, mash or puree ingredients. A whisk can help smoothly mix starches and flours into a soup. A potato masher is a great way to mash starchy vegetables, beans, and lentils; alternatively, you can use a fork.
For blending, the right equipment depends on the consistency you're looking for. For example, an immersion blender is extremely helpful to blend a soup right on the stove, but it can be tricky to get a completely smooth soup.
For the smoothest texture, use a countertop blender. Note that blending hot foods in a countertop blender can be dangerous, so you should take proper precautions. First, make sure to cool the liquid slightly before adding it to the blender. Next, remove the feeder cap, place a towel over the hole (otherwise, the hot liquid can explode). Keep your hand over the towel while blending, starting at a low speed, gradually increasing until the mixture is pureed.
Creamy Soup and Stew Recipes
After all this talk about a luxuriously creamy soup, I'm ready to head into the kitchen and get cooking! If you feel inspired too, be sure to take a look at our favorite creamy soup and stew recipes below:
- Creamy Sweet Potato Soup
- Creamy Tomato and White Bean Soup
- Avgolemono Soup
- Cream of Mushroom Soup
- Oyster Stew
- Hearty Roasted Vegetable and Chicken Stew