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I am trying to get a curry to be thick and less watery. At the moment I am removing solids, boiling water off and then adding solids back in later. Unfortunately some green vegetables I put in are not practical to move and so as the water lessens they can sometimes burn without constant movement.

Is there a way to know if most water has evaporated and hence further cooking isn't neccesary? As an example I realise when there is more water there is more boiling so when boiling has turned into small bubbles maybe that means it's enough and one doesnt need to cook further? I can of course just take a spoon of liquid and test it seems oily rather than liquidy but just wondering if you have any other ideas?

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    It should be really obvious based on the quantity of liquid, and the thickness of what liquid there is, whether you've cooked off as much water as you want. Is there some reason that's not working for you? – Cascabel Sep 26 '17 at 0:34
  • i think i overdo it hence burn some of the green leafy vegetables. – James Wilson Sep 26 '17 at 0:40
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    Are you stirring? It's hard to see how you could manage to burn things before you notice that there's not really much liquid left, things are sticking to the pan, even the sound of the cooking has changed, and so on. – Cascabel Sep 26 '17 at 0:42
  • ok if i recall correctly I wasn't stirring much so perhaps that was needed whilst the water level was decreasing. – James Wilson Sep 26 '17 at 2:06
  • Well, you don't have to stir constantly, but you do have to be there looking at it if you want to know when it's done (or be there adding water incrementally), and it's easier to examine if you stir. – Cascabel Sep 27 '17 at 15:55
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Rather than making the whole dish then boiling off the water, you might have more success by changing the order of your steps. For example, you could:

  • Add all of the meat and resilient vegetables
  • Then reduce the sauce until you've achieved the desired consistency
  • Add the leafy greens right at the end

As far as knowing when it's reached the right consistency, that can only really be achieved by stirring it and keeping an eye on it. You're also better reducing it at a simmer rather than a boil, as the higher heat can take it past the point you're looking for very quickly.

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    Leafy greens are going to tend to release a lot of water, though, so it may go back wetter than he wants. Definitely agree with the main point, though: if you put in too much water and want to cook it off, you have to pay attention. – Cascabel Sep 27 '17 at 15:56
  • @Jefromi I did think of that, but the obvious answer is to reduce it further than you intend, with the knowledge that the extra liquid will bring it back to where you want it – Matt Taylor Sep 28 '17 at 7:22
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It sounds like you just need more practice while paying more attention. Learning to do it without paying as much attention is something more instinctive that you're not likely to get right based on just reading answers here.

So I'd keep on doing what you're doing, but pay much closer attention, and stir.

  • How does it look? Pay attention to the consistency of the liquid. When you free up open space in the pan, how does it flow into it? How does it stick to the solid vegetables/meat? How does it stick to the spoon/spatula, or flow off of it? All of this will change gradually as it reduces/thickens.
  • How does it feel as you stir it? Be sure to scrape along the bottom of the pan some, especially toward the end. You can feel when things are starting to stick.
  • How does it sound? There's a big difference between the sound of a large amount of mostly-water liquid boiling through the whole pan, and the sound of a small amount of thicker liquid boiling mostly just on the bottom.
  • How does it smell? Especially if there's any sticking to the bottom, drying out, and cooking faster, it will smell different.
  • How much steam is coming off the pan?

At some point, I would also definitely consider adding water incrementally as you cook, so that there's always a bit, but it also will only take a couple minutes to cook off. That also has the benefit of it always looking pretty similar to how you want it, so you get a lot of practice seeing what that looks like.

Finally, if you're trying to really dry it out, to the point where there's basically no water left, and you have a very thick sauce clinging to everything, then it's going to burn pretty easily. If you aim for that, you likely need to reduce the heat toward the end. If you have an electric stove, you may even want to just remove it from the heat.

If you do all of this enough, you should develop better instincts. You'll be able to glance quickly, or stir quickly, and gauge how far along it is. In some cases you might even be able to tell entirely by smell. (But don't rely on that! If you mess up and don't smell til it's already starting to burn, it's too late.)

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