Splashed from my head to-ma-toes!

Convection. Viscosity. Bubbles. And how to prevent splattering when cooking thick sauces.


splattering - tomato splashing into sauce1-Minute NomNom

Tomato sauces such as marinara for spaghetti are so simple but yet so yummy, especially when they are thick and tomato-ey.

But cooking such thick sauces has a very special challenge. If we are not careful, a huge bubble will break through the surface of the sauce and spew hot stuff all over the stove. And if we are unlucky, it could even cover us from our head to our toes! Ouch!

boiling water and splattering

Why does this happen? When we cook a liquid and bring it to boiling, convection currents are created. These currents carry the steam bubbles that form at the bottom upwards. Along the way, they combine into increasingly larger ones. When they reach the surface, they pop.

The popping is a little violent, but nothing to really worry about. Unless we are cooking a thick sauce.

The difference in thick sauces is that the liquid is more viscous. The convection currents are thus slowed down as both the sauce and steam bubbles are impeded by the viscosity. These steam bubbles could even be “trapped” at the bottom.

Take a look at the video above – notice how the chef seems to be standing some distance away? 🙂 That is because these steam bubbles can grow in size, and eventually they combine into such big bubbles that they manage to break through the sauce surface. When this happens, they do not just “pop”; they “erupt” and spew hot sauce like a volcano, splattering it all over pan and stove.

There is more. As the sauce contains dissolved sugars and other ingredients, the boiling point is raised.  This causes steam bubbles to form faster and in greater numbers. As a result, more bubbles of steam could be “trapped” at the bottom. They combine and escape more quickly, increasing the odds of splattering.

stirring prevents splattering

To prevent such splattering, we can stir the pot of sauce regularly. This distributes the heat more evenly and rapidly, reducing the formation, concentration, and combination of steam bubbles that cause the mini tomato volcano.

We could also choose to simmer instead of boiling our sauce, which gently cooks the sauce (see the difference between boiling and simmering in the 1-Minute NomNom “And I can’t wait to see, what my buddies all think of me. Just imagine how much cooler I’ll be in simmer!”).

You can see how these two techniques come together in the video above. Not only do they prevent splattering, they also help to prevent over-cooking or even burning of the sauce and its ingredients.

Feed Me!

What others techniques do you use to prevent your thick sauces from splattering while you are cooking? Share them with us in the comments below!


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photos: in order – depositphotos/pogonici; istockphoto/limpido; depositphotos/Maria-Lapinalittleny


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