You’ve got your recipe card. You’ve got your ingredients, all measured out. You’ve done your mise en place. But somehow, your dish still doesn’t turn out exactly as you imagined. We wish we could be in the kitchen with you all the time, coaching you and pointing out the potential pitfalls by your side.
In truth, part of becoming an accomplished cook is reacting to how your food changes as you cook it. Even pros stumble over a recipe when they’re cooking with a new ingredient or in an unfamiliar kitchen. It’s not so much about never making a mistake as it is about recovering quickly when something isn’t quite right.
Today, we wanted to bring your attention to three common kitchen stumbling points and how to recover, so even if you stumble occasionally, you’ll never fall.
Here are three common cooking pitfalls and how to dig yourself out of them:
My dish is too salty!
Ok, so, first of all, you should definitely salt your food as you go about cooking it. What does that mean? Adding a bit of salt, tasting, then adding some more. This is so important we even made a video about how to season to taste. However, a hand can slip, and recipes with salty ingredients, like cheese or soy sauce, can alter the balance of flavors dramatically, leaving you with a dish that’s too salty to eat. To fix a too salty dish, you have to change the proportions. In other words, you need to increase the amount of food per grain of salt. If you have extra of the dish’s ingredients lying around, add those. Pouring in more broth, tomatoes, or coconut milk will decrease the saltiness. If none of those work with your dish, add a potato. Continue to cook, letting the potato absorb the flavor–and saltiness–from your dish. Then, toss the potato.
My dish is too spicy!
Hot peppers add a divine taste to food, but if you’re not a spice-lover, the heat can be searing instead of enjoyable. As with salt, we recommend adding heat to your food slowly. If you’re using hot pepper flakes, that means going pinch by pinch. If it’s a spice mix with a lot of spice, add by the 1/4 teaspoon, tasting as you go. For hot peppers, use less than called for if you’re sensitive, and definitely skip the seeds, which hold most of the spice. If your dish still winds up too spicy, you’ll have to add cooling ingredients. These fall into two camps: carbs and dairy. Depending on the nature of your dinner, you can choose between adding more pasta, rice, or bread, or pouring in some yogurt or cream. Both will diffuse and calm the crazy spicy meal you’ve accidentally created.
My dish is too rich!
Occasionally, you pour too much oil or cream into a dish, or your meat gets greasy as you cook it. If you love rich food, that’s fantastic. If not, you might find dinner cloying rather than delicious. There are a few simple fixes here: one is to simply pour off any fat that’s easily separated. Another is to plop down a huge green salad next to your richy-rich meal. Last, a squeeze of lemon or drop of vinegar uses acid to ease up the creaminess, helping to cut the taste of fat before it sticks in your throat. (If you’re the type of person who doesn’t know what “too rich” means, check out our post on how to cook with butter.)