Quick fixes for 6 common cooking mistakes
You somehow managed to add too much salt to your soup — now what? We’ve all made this mistake, or similar ones — overcooking vegetables or adding too much jalapeno, for example — and had that sudden, panicked moment when we think, “Did I just ruin the whole meal after spending all this time preparing it?”
Panic no more. The brilliant home cooks behind three of today’s top recipe blogs shared their solutions to six of these familiar flops.
Meet your food blogger panel:
- Jennifer Dempsey, recipe creator behind Mother Thyme, MotherThyme.com
- Phoebe Lapine, recipe creator behind Feed Me Phoebe, FeedMePhoebe.com
- Alexandra Stafford, recipe creator behind Alexandra’s Kitchen, AlexandraCooks.com
PROBLEM: Food tastes too salty
Whether you added too much salt or too many salty ingredients (think: olives or capers), this mistake happens to every home cook at least once. To prevent it from happening again, make sure you don’t measure the salt over your pot or bowl. It’s too easy to accidentally drop more than you intended to on your ingredients. If the damage is already done, take some advice from these ladies:
Phoebe: “Whenever something tastes dull, I always tell people to first try adding a little salt. However, once something is too salty, there are very few things you can do to reverse that flavor profile. Sometimes, depending on the dish, you can dilute. For example, if it’s a sauce, stew, or soup, you can add more stock or water. Or just more of the food itself. If it’s mashed potatoes, perhaps cook up an additional potato and add it.”
Alexandra: “If appropriate, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice or even a splash of vinegar can help cut the saltiness. Anything sweet — sugar, honey, brown sugar, etc. — can also balance the saltiness. Of course, you can always add more ingredients (tomatoes, beans, onions, etc.) to the pan/bowl/dish. Whatever you are working with, if you have more to spare, add them to the dish. Anything creamy, too, if appropriate, can help reduce the saltiness — milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, etc.”
PROBLEM: Vegetables are overcooked
“Gangnam Style” popped up on your Pandora station, and you temporarily forgot about your broccoli on the stove while you showed your significant other your sweet dance moves. Now your dinner’s vegetable side dish is mushy and unappealing.
Jennifer: “Dice or chop them to toss in pasta or rice. Toss them in breadcrumbs and place in a baking dish with some light cream or half-and-half, cheese and herbs [for] an au gratin. I like to do that often with cauliflower, but it works well with many vegetables.”
Phoebe: “When cooking vegetables, especially green ones, pay attention to the color. Once it reaches a vibrancy in the pan or boiling water, remove it. Like pasta, you’re looking for al dente. One way to prevent veggies from continuing to cook is to remove them to an ice bath or a colander and run them under cold water.”
PROBLEM: Food is too spicy
You wanted your chili to have a little kick, but you just downed an entire glass of milk to put out the fire on your tongue after taste-testing it. Jalapenos are great and all, but you’d prefer it if you didn’t have to wipe the sweat off your brow after every bite.
Alexandra: “When food is too spicy, there are a number of things you can do. If appropriate, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice can help temper the heat. If you have more of the other ingredients that are making up whatever you are preparing, you can add some of these back in in small additions. If the dish calls for any cream or if adding cream is appropriate, you can add something like cream, milk, coconut milk, sour cream or creme fraiche. You also can always add a little sugar or brown sugar or honey to balance out the spice.”
PROBLEM: Food is too sweet
You must have added more sugar than you thought because your dinner tastes like dessert. A little sugar can be wonderful in the right dish, but you want your meal to be closer to savory than it is to sweet.
Phoebe: “If something is too sweet, I try adding a bit of acid or spice. Great flavor is usually a balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy. Tinkering with those other elements will help balance anything that’s too sweet. It’s why chocolate chip cookies taste so great with just a pinch of salt!”
Alexandra: “When food is too sweet, similarly to when food is too salty, you can add a bit of acid (a squeeze of citrus or splash of vinegar) to balance out the sweetness or you can add in more ingredients to cut the sweetness. Salt unfortunately might heighten the sweetness, so it might not be the best option here. A tangy dairy product like yogurt, sour cream or creme fraiche might be a better counter to sweetness than straight cream or milk, which are sweet on their own. “
PROBLEM: Sauce is too watery
You feel like you followed the recipe religiously, but the sauce is still the same consistency as your wine. Resist the urge to curse the recipe creator, give up and grab another glass of wine; this should be an easy fix.
Jennifer: “A tip my grandmother taught me long ago: Make a paste with flour or cornstarch, and use the juice or sauce from the watery dish. I usually use 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour [and] 1 to 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Dissolve the flour or cornstarch with the liquid, and stir it into the dish to help thicken it a bit. If it’s still too watery, repeat. Always do a little at a time. If you do too much, the sauce may become too thick.”
Alexandra: “When a sauce is too watery, you can keep reducing it, if simmering was the method you were using to begin with. If you are making a sauce that has called for a roux, and the sauce hasn’t thickened properly, you can make a new roux (basically equal parts flour/fat) in a separate pot, and you can slowly ladle your sauce into the new roux, being sure to let it thicken slightly before adding another ladle of the sauce to the pot. Continue adding to the new pot until all of the sauce has been added and has thickened nicely for you.
“Another simple way to thicken a sauce is to use a slurry — a mixture of cornstarch and cold water — which you can whisk into a hot liquid to help thicken it. You just want to be careful when using slurries that the finished sauce doesn’t taste at all cornstarchy and that the finished sauce doesn’t get thicker than desirable.”
PROBLEM: Meat is overcooked
Overcooking the meat is one of the most upsetting mistakes to make since it’s often meant to be the star of the dish, and it was probably the priciest ingredient of the meal. If it’s not burnt to a crisp, it may still be salvageable.
Jennifer: “I hate when this happens. If steak stayed on the grill too long, I usually will slice it thin and serve it with a chimichurri sauce or shred it and make another recipe. For pork, shred it and toss it in barbecue sauce for BBQ pulled pork.”
Alexandra: “When meat is overcooked, there isn’t much you can do. With a steak, you can always slice it thinly against the grain, which will make the pieces a little more palatable. A simple sauce (horseradish mixed with sour cream for beef or apple sauce for pork or honey-mustard for chicken) or salsa or hot sauce always helps in these situations, too.”