It can be frustrating when you’re cooking a meal and the sauce breaks. Usually, you can salvage a broken sauce (but not always). Here’s how you can prevent a sauce from breaking and what to do if one of your sauces already has broken.
What does it mean when a sauce breaks?
A broken sauce is generally caused by the separation of sauces into two components: a watery liquid and an oily film on top. This happens when there’s too much fat or liquid in the mixture. This can happen when there are not enough emulsifiers (which help keep your ingredients together).
Sauces are usually made from multiple ingredients that include both oil and water. Oils and water will naturally separate. For a sauce, you want these ingredients to be well mixed together in what is called an “emulsion.” An emulsion forms when ingredients are mixed together. This disperses the fat and water particles evenly throughout each other to create the sauce.
So what does it mean when a sauce breaks? When your sauce breaks, it means that either the fat or water has separated from the other solvents. This creates not only an oily mess on your plate but also a broken sauce that no longer works as intended. Sauces can break for any number of reasons including cooking at high heat, adding too much liquid to a hot pan, or even just waiting too long for everything to combine appropriately.
How to fix a broken sauce
Once your sauce has separated, it can be difficult to put it back together. Luckily, there are some tricks you can use to improve your chances of getting it right again. Follow these steps to learn how to fix a broken sauce.
1. Add more liquid
If you are in the middle of a recipe and your sauce breaks, do not panic. The first thing to try is adding more liquid.
How much liquid to add depends on how much of the sauce is broken. If it is half-broken, add half as much again as the amount of oil that was used to break it in the first place. If it is completely broken, add equal volumes of oil and liquid. Start with a little bit and keep adding until the sauce comes back together into an emulsion. This may take a few iterations.
You can use stock or wine for this but water works just fine if that’s all you have around. A little bit of butter or cream at the end will also help give your sauce some heft back (and make it taste pretty great).
2. Blend or whisk the sauce
If you’re still having trouble getting it to come together, you might need to get out a blender. Blending works best if you blend warm liquids (but not hot!). Or, try transferring everything into a bowl and whisk furiously until you have achieved an emulsified state once again. If the mixture hasn’t separated too badly, you may get away with a little vigorous blending or whisking.
Pour the broken sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. If the sauce isn’t hot enough to serve right away, return it to the stove over low heat. Stir constantly until warm to avoid it breaking again.
3. Add emulsifying ingredients
If you don’t have a blender, you can also whisk in an ice cube on low heat until it melts and emulsifies your sauce. Depending on the type of sauce, you can also try adding a thickening agent while blending to help stabilize the emulsion.
If you’re making a white sauce, add an egg yolk to stabilize the emulsion. If your sauce is a tomato-based sauce (like marinara), add some heavy cream to stabilize the emulsion. The heavy cream will help bind the oil with the tomatoes, creating a thicker consistency.
When adding in extra ingredients, be sure to pour them in slowly and blend thoroughly.
Ways to prevent broken sauces in the future
The good news is that there are ways to prevent sauces from breaking. And it’s easier than you think. Follow these simple steps to prevent ever dealing with a broken sauce again.
1. Cook sauces at the correct temperature
The first step to preventing a sauce from breaking is to be sure you’re cooking at the right temperature. Most sauces shouldn’t be cooked over high heat. A simmer is usually enough, and a lower temperature will give you more control over how fast the sauce cooks. This helps you get the consistency just right. Likewise, if you’re making a sauce in the oven, use low heat.
Egg yolks are often used as a thickening agent in sauces, but if you cook them for too long at too high a temperature, the proteins will start to denature and form curds. Flour has similar properties, especially if it’s not cooked in butter first.
2. Add ingredients in the right order
Next, you want to be sure to add ingredients in the right order. Certain ingredients should be added before others. For example, if you’re making a cream sauce, it’s best to add herbs and spices before the cream. This way they have time to blend into the rest of the flavors. If you add them after, they’ll taste raw and overpowering.
When cooking emulsion sauces that tend to break, add the water first. Mix in your emulsifiers like egg, mayonnaise, or mustard. Then, add the oil-based ingredients last.
3. Blend ingredients as you cook
Taking a few seconds to blend your sauce as it cooks will help reduce the risk of it breaking. You can use a whisk or a fork to keep the sauce blended while it’s on the stove.
Now you know how to save your sauce and your dinner
Sauces are the ultimate finishing touch to food. A properly seasoned sauce will take any meal from good to great. Now you know how to fix a broken sauce and save your dinner!
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