Watery and runny curries are part of every Indian cook’s cooking journey. There is no way you can escape them.
Watery curries are roadblocks that most experienced and seasoned cooks have faced themselves and resolved multiple times.
Do not let them disappoint or overwhelm you as we have some quick and easy solutions in this post for you.
Here are some of the tried and tested tricks that we have learnt and used over time to rescue watery curries.
If you are looking for reasons why your curry turned out to be runny you can check those out here.
Have divided these into 3 categories-
- Ways to thicken the curry in the initial steps while making it
- Ways to fix it that involve very little cooking – simmering for 5-10 mins at the end
- Fixes you can perform after the curry has been cooked and does not require any cooking
WAYS TO THICKEN CURRY IN THE INITIAL STAGES WHILE YOU ARE COOKING IT:-
1. ADD TOMATO PUREE
Most curries use a lot of tomatoes as you can tell from their color. In such curries, the tomato has been used to form the curry base.
The tomatoes are cooked in hot oil until they absorb the flavors of spices, lose excess moisture and form a paste-like consistency.
If the right amount of tomatoes has not been used or they have not been cooked well to lose all the excess moisture then they make the curry runny.
We can fix such curries by adding tomato paste to them.
Tomatoes add more flavor to the curry and the puree makes the texture thicker.
Also, the tomatoes make the curries tangy so make sure that is the flavor profile you are going for as you try to thicken the curry.
Please note that the tomatoes need to be cooked in the curry so you can only do this while you are still cooking the curry. If the curry has been cooked already then please try the other options listed below.
2. COOK THE CURRY BASE I.E. ONION, TOMATO, GINGER, GARLIC VERY WELL IN HOT OIL.
These need to be cooked together in spices until they all get mushy and cooked really.
You should be able to see the oil separating from this mix. If you do not perform this sauté step well and add water before all these ingredients are cooked well together the curry will turn out watery.
The reason we say that these need to be cooked well until the oil separates is because then the curry base will be very thick and mushy.
We need to make sure that all the water evaporates from the aromatics and browning happens.
If there is still moisture left and the curry base consistency is not like that of a paste then adding more water to it later in the cooking process will only make it watery.
3. ACCOUNT FOR WATER CONTENT OF THE VEGETABLES USED
Not all veggies have the same water content, while some like zucchini and gourd have a lot of water in them. On the other hand, potatoes have very little water in them.
While cooking high water content vegetables we cannot add the same amount of water as we add to potatoes.
So when in doubt always add less water and add more as you go.
It’s highly likely that if you are cooking a high water content vegetable like zucchini and bell pepper they will cook in their liquid and will not need water to be added on top.
However, in the case of low water content ingredients like potatoes, you will have to add more water.
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If you add water to an already high water content vegetable then it will make the curry runny. Keep that in mind when you add water to the curry.
4. LESS IS MORE WHEN IT COMES TO ADDING WATER
Whenever adding water it’s always better to add less and then add more as you go. As it is much easier to control the water added than to remove it from the curry once added.
So when in doubt start small and then mix it well, let it cook, and then see how you go. If the curry still seems dry or the consistency is not what you want it to be, then add more water.
This way you would never end up with watery or runny curry.
5. KNOW IF YOU WANT TO COOK WITH THE LID OPEN OR CLOSED
When we cook with the lid closed we do not allow the hot steam to escape. The moisture released from the cooking remains trapped within and precipitates back into the dish. This trapped steam changing into moisture also influences the water content of a dish.
Whenever cooking a dish make sure that you know if you want to cook with the lid open or closed.
If we keep the lid closed while cooking the hot steam does not escape and gets trapped. It then precipitates back into the food being cooked as water. If we want the curry to be dry then we need to cook it without a lid, which will allow the moisture to escape.
Curries cooked without a lid have a lower water content than the ones cooked with a lid.
6. USE THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF OIL
If you use very less oil the aromatics will not cook well and release their moisture, instead they will burn and stick to the base.
You might add more water to them to get them off the base and that defeats the purpose here.
Add enough oil that it can coat all the aromatics well and cook them all around at high temperatures.
The hot oil helps in getting rid of the moisture present in onion and tomatoes.
When cooked at high temperature in the oil, they slowly lose the moisture and help in making the curry thick.
7. ADD SALT AT THE RIGHT TIME
When we add salt to our vegetables and aromatics they release all the moisture in them and can make the curry texture a bit watery.
If you do not want this released moisture then add salt when you are sautéing the vegetables. This will ensure that all the excess moisture is released as you are sautéing them.
As we are still cooking the moisture released will get evaporated reducing the curry’s water content.
WAYS TO FIX IT THAT INVOLVE VERY LITTLE COOKING I.E. SIMMERING FOR 5-10 MINS AT THE END
8. ADD A THICKENING FLOUR LIKE CORN FLOUR, RICE FLOUR, COCONUT FLOUR
There are a lot of flours like corn flour, rice flour , and coconut flour that can be used as thickening agents for the curry. We need to make a slurry out of these flours and then add them to the curry.
Take an equal amount of flour and water and then mix them well together. You can start by adding about 1 tbsp. flour and then the same amount of water and mix it well.
Make sure there are no lumps, whisk it well. If there are lumps then they can spoil the curry when added to it.
Add this water and flour mix or slurry to the curry and let it simmer for 5-10 mins.
Please do not add these thickening agents directly to your curry. It’s important to mix the flour in some water first because if you add it directly to your hot curry then lumps will be formed.
Since we are only mixing uncooked flour with water we must simmer the curry for 5-10 mins to let the slurry cook and mix well with the curry.
If you do not want to do any simmering at all then we should make a roux and that has been shown later in the post.
9. LET THE CURRY SIMMER FOR SOME MORE TIME
If you are not happy with the consistency of the curry and want it to be thicker, you can cook the curry a bit longer.
When cooked longer more moisture will be lost to evaporation and will make the curry thicker. Make sure that the curry is not covered when simmering as this will not let the water evaporate from the curry base.
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You may want to set aside the meat, fish or vegetables in the dish so that it does not get overcooked.
Let the curry base cook for some more time. Keep an eye on it and keep stirring so that it’s equally heated and does not burn at the bottom.
When you are happy with the consistency you can put the meat , or vegetables back if you had taken them out.
I do not take the veggies out usually and just cook the curry as is to get the right texture.
10. TAKE OUT THE EXCESS WATER
This is a recommended solution if your curry is too runny that it is almost like flavored water.
If you think that it cannot be thickened enough, simmering enough simmering it will take forever to reduce, then it makes more sense to just remove the excess water.
Since it’s so runny even though you remove the water not much flavor will be lost as there wasn’t much ,to begin with.
Whatever has been lost can be made up by adding a little bit more salt and spices to compensate for the excess water removed.
If you have boiled vegetables in the excess water you can drink it or use it in making flavored rice so the nutrients are not wasted.
For removing the excess water you can tilt the dish to one side and then scoop it out. You can also use a ladle and slowly dip it in the curry until it has been filled with water and then remove it.
11. ADD YOGURT
Dairy products are used often in curries to make them rich and creamy. Yogurt is commonly used to achieve that. However, not all curries work well with yogurt.
This can be done to only curries that have a tangy taste to them. If you add yogurt to a creamy curry with slightly sweet taste to it (usually called Makhni curry) it can spoil the taste.
So ensure that you add yogurt only if the curry has a tangy taste profile.
Make sure that the curd you use does not have much water in it and that you beat the curd well.
Remove the pan from the heat briefly when adding it. If you add it unbeaten at a high cooking temperature, the fat in yogurt can separate making the curry even runnier.
Also, make sure that the yogurt is at room temperature , and better to use Greek yogurt as it is thicker than regular yogurt.
12. ADD CASHEW PASTE
Nuts are also commonly used in curries for making them creamy and delicious. Some of the commonly used nuts are cashews and almonds.
The cashew paste makes the curry thicker and creamier. It is a perfect thickener for creamy rich curries that have a sweet flavor profile. You can soak and grind some cashews, add this thick cashew paste to your curry and let it simmer for 5-10 mins.
The cashew will give the curry a rich flavor and make the curry much more rich and sweet.
Soak and Grind Cashews to make a paste
This will also help if the curry is very spicy to lower down the spice quotient.
However, as we are adding raw nuts into the curry base they need to be cooked along with the curry for at least 10 mins or so.
This will help the paste mix well with the curry base and also remove the raw flavor of the nuts.
13. ADD GRATED / SHREDDED COCONUT
A lot of Indian curries, mostly from South India also have coconut base to them.
For such curries that have a coconut base, you can also add coconut to them and it will make the curry thicker.
Please note that the coconut would not go well with all the curries, especially north Indian ones.
However, you can definitely use it to make the south Indian curries thicker.
So before adding the coconut please make sure you check the curry base flavors. If it is a tomato-based gravy then this solution will not work for it.
Once you know that coconut can be used for the curry base as a thickener, you can grind fresh coconut pulp into a thick paste and then add that to the curry. If you have desiccated coconut then it can be used as well.
14. ADD RICE TO IT
If the curry is too watery and you were going to eat it with rice then you can simply add rice to the watery curry.
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The rice will get cooked with the curry and also soak in all the flavors present in the excess curry water. The result will be more like a curry pulao or pilaf that would be rich with flavors and would have also taken care of the runny curry.
It‘s a win-win where no flavors and nutrients are lost or no additional ingredients are needed.
You would already have rice on hand and then cooking it in the same gravy will make it a one-pot dish. It would be great for flavors and cleaning as well.
WAYS TO FIX THE CURRY AFTER IT HAS BEEN COMPLETELY COOKED –
15. ADD BOILED POTATOES
Potatoes go well with most vegetables.
You can add boiled, peeled , and mashed potatoes to the curry. However, if the curry is very rich and creamy then the potatoes would not be a good fix.
Please use roux or cream instead, both of these options have been mentioned later.
For non-creamy curries, it’s better to add mushy boiled potatoes to the curry. These will combine with the watery curry base and will make them thicker.
The starch in potatoes will mix well with the curry base and make it thicker.
If you have the time then cook the potatoes in curry for around 5 mins so the flavors get infused in the potatoes as well but it’s not mandatory.
16. ADD CREAM
As mentioned earlier, for rich curries potatoes might not be a good solution then you can also add some more cream to it.
You can add cream to the curry, which will make the curry thicker, lower the spice quotient , and will also give a rich flavor to your curry.
Like yogurt please make sure that you add it only at a low cooking temperature else the fat in the cream may separate while cooking.
Also, excess cream can make your curry too sweet. Add as you go and add a little at a time and mix it well to see if you like the consistency and flavors.
17. BLEND THE INGREDIENTS
The curry is watery if the ingredients have not been cooked and mixed well with the curry base. In order to fix this, you can take part of the curry and run it in a blender. Add this blended paste to the rest of the curry.
This will change the texture of the curry base and will make it thicker.
This blending will work with all types of curry bases and is the easiest solution because it does not require any extra cooking or ingredients.
If you think that blending will make the curry too mushy then you can simply press the ingredients with the ladle. Mash them well to make them semi-solid that mix well with the curry base.
I do this all the time when we make curries like kidney beans(rajma) or chickpeas(chole).
18. MAKE A ROUX
Roux is commonly used for thickening different curry bases. It is made by cooking equal amounts of fat and flour. The hot oil cooks the flour well and then makes a thick paste or emulsion with it.
The flour in the roux is well cooked and does not have a raw flavor to it. At the same time, the flour should not be overcooked as it can become too toasty for the dish.
Please make sure that the oil used for making it is a neutral flavor oil or it can overpower the flavors.
We do not want the roux to add any flavors to the dish but only its creamy thickness to the curry.
Since the roux has been cooked or roasted already, there is no need to cook it when added. You can simply add it and then mix it into the curry.
Hope this post helped you find some ways that work for your curry and the ingredients you have on hand.
My favorite solution is always to mash the ingredients into a semi-solid slurry kind of consistency. It always works and is the least effort and ingredients method of all. You don’t need anything new or any appliance for it.
Do let me know which one of these tips did you use to thicken curry? Please share it in the comments below.
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