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My wife made a cream based sauce last night and the recipe said to "reduce" it. The cream sauce was comprised of some white wine, couple cups of heavy cream and chicken broth (my wife substituted water for the broth)

I looked up how to reduce a sauce, and it basically said to heat it up til most of the liquid evaporates and the sauce gets thicker. Makes sense, but the website I was on said that the liquid should simmer on low heat while reducing. I was doing this but it was taking forever and was still very thin (~30 minutes). I cranked up the heat to high and that sped things up, but I'm wondering what the proper way to do it is.

Should she not have added water? Was there something else we missed? Or does it really take that long to reduce a cream sauce?

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This is a comment because its not really an answer to the question you asked. If the broth was indeed for thickening (I assume so) then you can also use a bit of flour. I know this sounds odd at fist, but if you add it early, it will help things thicken and you won't taste or feel a bit of it. You only need a tablespoon or so. Cheers to your wife for the effort either way. I hope she didn't feel like she did something terrible. I'm teaching my girlfriend to cook, and she feels bad when things don't work exactly to plan. I keep reminding her that the only way to learn is to make mistakes! –  Colin K Jan 25 '11 at 21:50
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3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

The simple answer is: You reduce a cream sauce the same way you reduce any other sauce, by simmering it until a certain amount of liquid is gone, just like the instructions said. You have to be careful about temperature though, because milk (or cream) can burn at high temperatures, and then your sauce is ruined. You should keep it to a low or at most medium simmer.

Cream sauces normally tend to thicken extremely fast, so the long cooking time is almost certainly due to watering it down. I don't think the water was necessary at all; the chicken broth was probably for flavouring, and although "broth" is a somewhat nebulous term, one would normally expect a broth to contain at least some amount of gelatin, which will cause the sauce to thicken substantially when it cools if you reduce it a lot. Water doesn't, so you've added no flavour and thinned out the sauce.

Basically, you (or your wife) added water for no other purpose than to try to evaporate it later. Water generally doesn't go in a cream sauce. If you don't have chicken broth or can't use it, I would either substitute more wine or just leave it out completely. Usually the only time you substitute water for broth is if it's actually the base of your sauce.

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lol, that's exactly what I told her about the water after I figured out what "reducing" meant. Can't blame her, I probably would have done similarly... –  Ovi Tisler Dec 1 '10 at 4:17
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@OTisler: Indeed, it's an easy mistake for many to make; substitutions have to take into account context, it's often important to understand why the recipe calls for a certain ingredient before you can determine if a substitute is appropriate (or even necessary). –  Aaronut Dec 1 '10 at 4:22
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+1: I can't remember where I read it, but in some cookbook long ago, the chef stated categorically that you should never waste an opportunity to add flavor, and therefore water was always a bad idea. –  Satanicpuppy Dec 1 '10 at 14:57
    
In addition to the effect of gelatin in the stock, there would also be a higher sodium content; which would allow the simmering to take place at a higher temperature without scorching due to salt raising the relative boiling point. Simmering at a higher temperature would cut down your time for reducing. –  mfg Dec 1 '10 at 18:40
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@mfg: First of all, stock generally isn't salted (although broth is more likely to be). More importantly, while salt (not sodium) does raise the boiling point, the practical effect of that is going to be completely negligible in this case. It's something like 1° C for 100 g of salt for a typical pot size. That's over half a cup of salt for a temperature difference that you wouldn't even notice, and no broth is that salty. Last but not least, it's not the overall temperature of the sauce that matters w/r/t burning, it's the contact temperature at the bottom of the pan, which is much hotter. –  Aaronut Dec 1 '10 at 19:09
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Your pan was not very hot when you poured in the cream, and then you kept the temperature low per the low simmer instructions; that's why it took forever.

Bring it to a boil on high heat first, then bring it down, and it will reduce in under ten minutes.

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This is certainly a possible reason, although the question did not state how or how quickly it was brought up to simmering temperature. In general, simmer implies heating quickly and then bringing the temperature down; that's true for any recipe, not just cream sauces or reductions. –  Aaronut Dec 24 '11 at 18:33
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It dosnt make sense to add water to cream if your purpose it to take the water out of the cream, thats why it took so long .

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This information is already wholly contained in the accepted answer. –  Sobachatina Jan 12 '13 at 19:04
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