How To Fix An Over-Reduced Sauce

We've all been there — you've let a sauce slowly reduce on the stove and accidentally forgotten about it. Or you've put it over a burner with too high of heat and the process got away from you, only to find it far too concentrated in flavor with minimal volume. In order to salvage your sauce, you scramble to think of different options. While adding a splash of water to save it might seem like a good idea, it could actually end up just diluting it. 

In fact, depending on the sauce, it could even cause it to curdle, seize up, or completely break the emulsion. This is because the amount of water and fat present in a sauce should be at the right ratio in order for it to coexist. When it reduces, the water evaporates, whereas the other ingredients stay the same and become more pungent. This process changes the ratio. So, when you're trying to bulk up your sauce again, it's best to use an ingredient that has a mild flavor.

Heavy cream to the rescue

Professional chef Wolfgang Puck explained to MasterClass that heavy cream is a great addition to your over-reduced sauce, as it lightens up the texture and flavor. In fact, liquids with flavor such as stock, broth, cream, or tomato sauce are best in order to fully salvage the sauce, compared to diluting it with water. Simply add just enough to reach the consistency and volume that you desire, simmering slightly if needed. There are also some easy indicators to knowing when your sauce is properly reduced, so you won't need to use this cooking hack.

For starters, you can get an idea of your progress by tilting the pot once you start reducing it. This will create a line on the side of the pot and as your sauce continues to narrow, you'll notice the difference as you tilt it again. Another clever tip is to use a chopstick. Simply place the chopstick directly into the sauce and mark with a pencil where the surface of the sauce hits. As you continue to insert the chopstick throughout the reduction, you'll notice the mark being much higher than the top of the sauce as it evaporates. With these tips in mind, your next sauce will be the perfect addition to any meal.