When a recipe says "simmer until thickened" how do I know when it is thick enough?

Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Photo: Johnny Autry; Styling: Mary Clayton Carl

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If you have a cooking question, our expert, Marge Perry, can answer it. Marge teaches home cooks in her classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She is an award-winning food writer, longtime contributor for Cooking Light and a number of other leading food magazines, author of the blog A Sweet and Savory Life, columnist for Newsday, and has contributed to over 20 cookbooks.

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A simple spoon almost always tells you the answer–but that answer depends on what you're cooking!

If you are making tomato sauce, for example, when you lift the spoon out of the sauce, it should be thick enough to leave residue on your spoon. If you are making a glaze, on the other hand, you want the glaze to really coat the spoon. A good overall way of telling that your sauce has thickened is to run the spoon across the pan at the beginning of cooking, and note that the ingredients close right back over the pathway of the spoon. Once the sauce begins to thicken, you will be able to see the line in the pan, as if you are drawing it. That line takes longer to fade as the sauce becomes thicker.

For all types of sauces, see our collection of Sauce Recipes and see how to make classic sauces in Master Cooking Sauces.

Marge Perry
May, 2012

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