It’s impossible to talk about comfort food without mentioning mac and cheese. It’s a pretty straightforward dish that is as simple as it is delicious.
It is fairly easy to make with a handful of basic ingredients and is usually ready within minutes. However, whether you are making homemade or boxed mac and cheese, it is important to measure the ingredients or you can end up with a runny cheese sauce.
When that happens, the first thing you can do is to go back to your recipe to see if you have missed out on something or added too little or too much of something.
Small mistakes can easily be fixed and you can adjust the ingredients accordingly. But what if that doesn’t work?
How do you thicken mac and cheese? There are 5 easy ways to thicken a runny cheese sauce: you can use cornstarch as a thickening agent, use a little egg yolk, add some more cheese, make some extra béchamel sauce, or simmer it down until the excess water evaporates.
You can try whichever option sounds the most appealing to you and certainly get the cheese sauce to thicken to your desired consistency and taste.
Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to thicken cheese sauce to get a better understanding for when you’re presented with the situation and need to fix your mac and cheese ASAP:
How To Thicken Cheese Sauce
Don’t worry if your cheese sauce ends up a little runnier than you wanted it to be. Everyone makes mistakes, even with something as simple as mac and cheese. The good news is that it is easily fixable!
Depending on what’s available in your pantry and what seems most doable for you, here are 5 ways you can thicken mac and cheese sauce.
1. Use A Starch Thickener
Thickening agents such as cornstarch and flour are pantry staples and are usually found in every kitchen. Using them to thicken sauces is a very common method for a variety of dishes.
You can use either of the two depending on your preference and what’s available to you. The process is fairly easy and will give you the desired results within minutes.
How to thicken cheese sauce using cornstarch or flour:
- Mix 1-2 teaspoons of cornstarch or flour to about half a cup of cold water.
- Whisk it properly to make sure there are no lumps.
- Slowly mix it into your cheese sauce one teaspoon at a time.
- Do not rush the process and do not add the mixture all at once.
- Allow the sauce to simmer for a few minutes so that there is no excess starchy flavor to the mac and cheese.
- Check the thickness of the sauce to see if it is at your desired consistency. If you feel that it is still a bit runny, you can try adding more of the cornstarch or flour.
2. Use Egg Yolk
If you do not have any cornstarch or flour available in your kitchen, you can use the next best alternative for thickening cheese sauce: egg yolk.
Egg yolk is a great thickening agent and is preferred by some chefs to thicken their sauces. The method is fairly easy and very similar to using cornstarch or flour.
How to thicken cheese sauce using egg yolk:
- Thoroughly whisk an egg yolk in a separate bowl.
- Slowly add the cheese sauce into the egg mixture until you have about 1 cup of the liquid to work with.
- Next, gently whisk the egg yolk in the rest of the cheese sauce in a saucepan over low heat.
- Stir it frequently until the cheese sauce thickens and reaches its desired consistency.
Note: You probably won’t need to add an entire egg yolk to the cheese sauce. At times, just a little bit will suffice and your sauce will thicken easily. Refrain from adding too much and use your best judgement to decide how much is enough.
3. Simmer It
A basic technique that requires no extra ingredients, simmering the cheese sauce is a great way to thicken it and get rid of the extra moisture.
Often the primary and most preferred method of choice, simmering a liquid should be the first thing to try when you have to work with a runny sauce.
How to thicken cheese sauce by simmering it on low heat:
- Put the cheese sauce into a saucepan and put it on the stovetop.
- Adjust the heat and set it to simmer.
- Stir the cheese sauce regularly as the excess water gets evaporated.
- Make sure to keep a close eye on the sauce while it is simmering to prevent it from burning.
- Turn off the flame when the desired consistency is reached.
Note: Do not let it boil on high heat since it can cause the dairy to separate and ruin the texture of the sauce.
4. Add More Cheese
There’s no such thing as too much cheese. Adding more cheese is a 3-in-1 solution to make your cheese sauce not just thicker but also creamier and cheesier.
You can use either shredded or diced cheese for this method, both of which make for excellent thickening agents.
How to thicken cheese sauce by adding more cheese:
- Pour the cheese sauce into a saucepan and place it on the stovetop over low heat.
- Add the shredded or diced cheese to the sauce while stirring constantly to mix the ingredients together.
- Turn off the heat after all the cheese has been incorporated into the sauce and has thickened as per your requirements.
Note: If you go overboard with the cheese and add too much, which is very likely if you are a cheese lover like us, you could end up with a sauce that is too thick. You can fix this issue by adding 1 tablespoon of milk to the sauce to thin it out a little.
5. Add A New Béchamel Sauce
All cheese sauces start off as a béchamel sauce that is made with milk thickened with flour, butter, and a few other ingredients.
For this method, you must go back to the basics and make a new béchamel sauce to add to the runny cheese sauce. It is one of the best methods to opt for without altering the flavor of the cheese sauce.
How to thicken cheese sauce by adding a new béchamel sauce:
- Make a new béchamel sauce in a separate pan by combining flour, grated nutmeg, bay leaf, butter, onion, and milk.
- Simmer it on low heat till it comes to a boil.
- Turn off the heat and let it rest covered for 15 minutes.
- Strain the mixture to get rid of the excess onions and bay leaf to get a smooth consistency.
- Melt butter in a saucepan using medium heat.
- Add flour to it and cook for about 1 minute.
- Keep stirring to form a roux and gradually add the strained milk mixture to it.
- Stir it well using a whisk until everything has been thoroughly combined.
- Once ready, add it to the runny cheese sauce, making sure to simmer it until both the sauces have incorporated well with each other.
- Check to see the desired consistency and be careful to not burn the cheese sauce.
Now that we’ve covered all there is to know about thickening your cheese sauce for the perfect mac and cheese, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have:
How Do You Fix Thick Cheese Sauce?
A thick and lumpy cheese sauce is just as big an issue as a runny one. You can end up with a thick mac and cheese due to a number of reasons, and adding too much cheese or flour are two of the most common.
Luckily, there are easy ways to fix thick mac and cheese as well, including using basic ingredients that are very easily available.
To get the sauce back to its perfect consistency, you need to add some liquid in the form of water, milk, or cream. Make sure to add just a little or you might end up with a bland cheese sauce with diluted flavors.
Another great but not so commonly used trick is to add broth. You can try chicken, beef, or vegetable broth as per your liking, which will not just help smooth the texture but also add a great flavor to the sauce without diluting its taste.
How Do You Fix Bland Cheese Sauce?
If for some reason your cheese sauce turns bland, you can start by adding a bit of salt. If that doesn’t work, you can try adding black pepper, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, mustard powder, or some Italian seasoning.