Sometimes cooking mistakes happen. Even for professionals! It’s incredibly easy to overcook, undercook, over salt, over spice and believe it or not, even over sweeten recipes. And it doesn’t stop there. I do not consider myself a professional but I would say I’m well seasoned in the kitchen. However, my dishes are not always well seasoned.
I started learning how to cook around the age of 8 and even after all these years sometimes I get a little heavy-handed (and under handed) with my seasonings. I even had to apologize for last nights dinner because the sautéed kale was a little over salted. Luckily my partner isn’t as sensitive to salt as I am and thought it was great!
But how do you fix and overly cooked pasta or overly salted kale? Most of the time it’s pretty simple! I’ve researched everything I could think of that could be corrected and even learned a few new things myself.
Kick back, relax and follow along with these tips to reverse cooking mistakes! Never serve salty, burnt or mushy meal again.
Too much salt?
If you’ve over salted a meal, it’s probably one of the easiest cooking mistakes to reverse. My first go to is to add an acid. I typically go for lemon or apple cider, but really any vinegar will do depending on what your flavor base is for your meal. Another method to use would be to add a low sodium broth or water if your recipe allows it! I’ve also seen people use potatoes to soak up the salt, which could work. But if it’s super salty the potatoes won’t absorb enough to balance your meal back out.
I’m pretty sensitive to spice so this is one I often avoid at restaurants and even cooking at home. I ordered chilaquiles from my favorite Mexican restaurant down the street last weekend for brunch and I had to go immediately home because it was over spiced and sent my stomach into a cramp spiral from the heat. However, if you’re served an overly spicy meal or you accidentally get heavy-handed at home, there’s a pretty quick fix that could save you either way!
Squeeze a little lime or sweeten it up with honey. Or do both! I typically add both. If your recipe has dairy in it, go ahead and add more milk, cheese, yogurt or sour cream. Whether it’s dairy or dairy free this will calm the heat down quickly. If you’ve over spiced noodles for a ramen or udon dish, then add your favorite nut butter! Nut butters with Asian noodle dishes will compliment your meal nicely.
I’m someone who has a huge sweet tooth, but even sweets can sometimes be too much for me. If you’ve ordered sweets out, there’s really no saving someone else’s recipe. But if you’re cooking from home it’s a pretty simple fix! Just like salt, add either lemon or vinegar to balance out the sweetness.
You can also add salt! I usually always add salt if I’m baking cookies or brownies at home. And a little finishing sea salt typically helps your taste buds out a lot if your dessert is packing some immense sugary goodness.
Too sour, tart or bitter?
These are little less likely if you’re cooking from home but it still happens and there’s a quick way to reverse it!
If your recipe is too sour or tart, sugar or honey typically do the trick. And just like with spice, you can also add something creamy if your recipe allows it!
One that stood out to me in my research was adding caramelized onions to a meal that turned out too sour. Some common vegetables that are described as sour, tart or bitter are brussels, endive, kale, eggplant, turnips and arugula. All of these are super good for you, but sometimes need a little help to balance out their unpopular flavor. When cooking with these veggies, try experimenting by pairing them with caramelized onions and taste the magic!
Much like it’s sour and tart buddies, bitterness can happen depending on the fruits, veggies and seasonings you’re using in your recipe. I cook with turmeric often, but if you’re winging it without instructions too much can make your meal very bitter. To reverse this you can use honey, sugar, cream or fats. Add some butter to your dish and the bitterness will calm down and balance out. You can also add butter to overly bitter coffee!
Overcooked or under cooked pasta?
Overcooked pasta makes me really sad. I’ve learned my lesson by now, but when I first switched to gluten free pastas, finding the right boil time was going to be the death of me. Each gluten free pasta is so different and super picky with its boil time. However, there are a few tricks that can be done to try to reverse it.
When cooking pasta, it’s always best to set the timer for the least amount of recommended cook time. So if it says 7-9 minutes. Set your timer for 7, check it and go from there. But sometimes you get busy with other things, forget to set the timer and before you know it’s been 10-11 minutes and the pasta is a bit too soft. Quickly pour it into a colander in your sink and rinse cold water over it. Grab a few ice cubes and place them on top of the pasta and continue to rinse with cold water. This helps by stopping the cooking process and removes the excess starch.
If your pasta feels good from here then you’ve reversed it in time! If it is still a little soft, you can toss it in a pan with hot oil to crisp it up a bit and give it some texture.
If you under cooked your pasta just reboil it until it’s cooked to your liking! And you’ve already drained your water, this is a pretty easy fix as long as you’re making a sauce to go with it. If not, most sauces are easy to whip up quickly! Make your sauce in your pan then add your pasta to toss in it. Your extra al dente pasta will finish cooking in the sauce and should then be the perfect texture.
Burnt or under cooked meat?
This reversal is a little tricky because you can’t necessarily reverse it, but technically just try to fix it. Most of the time I love a nice burn layer or char layer. I like my hot dogs burnt and I like a good char on my steak, but sometimes it can be too charred which produces a super bitter flavor and more than likely, super dry meat.
Unfortunately, the only thing to get rid of the char would be to shave it off. Get yourself a good knife and try to keep the shape of the meat and just shave off the char. If you’re going for presentation, I’d pre-slice all meat to so that it doesn’t look so odd if shaving off the char took away from its looks.
As for if the meat is dry from it being burnt, whip up a gravy or jus. This can easily fix dry meat by adding moisture and flavor back into it. You can also shred the meat depending on the cut and pair it with a sauce!
For under cooked meat there’s a couple of options to try to redeem it. Many times chicken can be easily under cooked in a skillet. You can always bring it out and slice into it to check, but when you set it back in you typically lose a lot of the juices. However, if you place it back into the pan cut side down, it’ll sear the cut and keep most of the juices in.
For chicken, I usually tenderize it and slice it into small pieces. This will usually guarantee juicer and perfectly cooked chicken. I also put the lid on for the last few minutes to help it cook all the way through if I’m cooking a solid piece of chicken.
For steak or burgers, if you’ve under cooked them on the grill or stove, just pop them into the oven at 350° for a few minutes and this will help to cook through so that they’re not too rare.
Another good tip for cooking meat is to use a thermometer. This will help you to ensure your meat is not under cooked or overcooked without having to cut into it.
Soup too thin?
It’s a bit too hot for soup in the south right now but these will be good tips for the fall and winter! If you’re following along with a recipe or free handing your soup and it’s a little too thin for your liking, turn the heat up and let it boil to reduce it. Unfortunately, if you have vegetables in your soup, you should remove them so that they don’t get too mushy but that’s totally up to you! Let it reduce without stirring it too much. You will see the line of the side of the pot of where the soup was as it reduces and wait for it to be the consistency you like!
You can also grate in a potato if you want your soup creamier. Grating it in will help for the starch from the potato to gradually mix with the soup creating a creamier consistency.
Another trick I use it I take out about a cup of soup into a bowl or large measuring cup, whisk in about 1-2tbsp of corn starch and then add it back to the soup at high heat. This will help to thicken the soup without using dairy products.
The second trick I use is an immersion blender with a little bit of extra creamy oat milk. If you don’t mind whatever is in your spend getting slightly blended, and immersion blender is an amazing tool for soups!
Sauce or gravy too lumpy?
Removing lumps from sauces and gravies is easy. If you have any veggies or meat in your gravy/sauce, strain them out and set them to the side. In your pot, use an immersion blender to help smooth everything out. Once it’s the consistency you like, add your other ingredients back in!
Got wilted greens?
Wilted greens is another easy fix, assuming their not too far gone. Grab a bowl (I prefer glass or stainless) and fill it with ice and water. Submerge your greens for 30min to an hour in the ice water. Once they’ve perked back up, dry them out in a salad spinner to remove any excess water!
To prevent your greens from wilting, it’s best to place them in a plastic bag or reusable Ziploc with a paper towel. The paper towel will absorb any extra moisture and the Ziploc will keep them fresh.
For kale, I usually just place my stalks in the Ziploc bag and squeeze any extra air out without a paper towel. This helps to keep kale for while!
Side note: I recently bought reusable Ziplocs and they have been a game changer! If you’re considering them, I highly recommend biting the bullet and getting them. They’re amazing and it feels good to not waste so many plastic bags.
This is a trickier one because if your veggies are way too overcooked there’s not much you can do to save them, but you can reuse them. For super overcooked veggies you can place them in a blender and turn them into a soup or sauce!
For slightly overcooked veggies you can use the salad trick and place them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
Got soggy fries?
If you’re frying your fries in oil and they’re ending up soggy your oil is more than likely not hot enough. It’s best to get a thermometer so that you can make sure your oil is at the perfect temp to avoid soggy fries. If your temp is right, you’re probably overcrowding them in the oil!
This goes for baking and stove top cooking as well. Overcrowding your fryer, pan, pot or baking sheet will cause your chicken, potatoes, brussels, etc to retain too much moisture. When they don’t have enough space to cook, they can’t crisp up.
So if you’re frying your fries, remove them, turn the heat up then add a few at a time to get them nice and crispy. Same goes with pan frying them. And if your oven roasting them and have a lot, just use two baking sheets with parchment paper!
Another easy way to avoid soggy fries, or food in general is get an air fryer! You’ll use way less oil and never have soggy fries again. If you’re not sure which one to get, check out my article where I reviewed and broke down all the details about different air fryers.
Eating bland food can be the worst. The best way to avoid this is to taste your food along the way! Check it every once in a while to make sure there’s enough salt. Or if there’s too much, remember your acids to balance it out. And if it’s too spicy, don’t forget to try adding something sweet like honey.
If you feel totally lost about pairing flavor, I highly recommend checking out Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. She’s an incredibly lovable chef who really helps you to love and appreciate great food and flavor through her love of food and by getting down to the base of the four components of flavor. She also has a Netflix short series that is amazing. I’ve seen it 4-5 times!
Food stuck to the bottom of the pan?
So this isn’t really a reversal of food but it happens to the best of us. Don’t try dry scraping it and don’t just toss it in the trash. There is a way to fix it! If you have burnt food or stuck food on the bottom of your pot or pan, simply fill it with 1-2 inches of water and a dash of Dawn. Put it back on the stove on high heat to bring it to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Grab a wooden spoon (or silicone) and stir the watery soap while gently scraping the bottom of the pan. Eventually the residue will start to lift from the heat and soap and you can then pour it out into your sink! Let the pot/pan cool before washing.
General rule of thumb 👍
None of us are perfect and mistakes happen but here are a few general rules of thumb to try to avoid any future cooking mistakes!
Follow the recipe! It’s fun to go off the written path sometimes, but recipes are there for a reason. There’s a science to measurements and someone put the time in to figure out the perfect balance for you. So read the recipe all the way through before you start cooking to make sure you have everything you need laid out and there won’t be any surprises!
Taste your food as you go. Like I said under bland, all pro chefs taste along the way (with disposable tasting spoons of course). This will help you to balance out your food if it’s leaning to be too salty, too spicy, too sweet or too bland.
No over crowding! Whether you’re frying, sautéing or roasting leave some space. We don’t like to be overcrowded and neither does your food.
Don’t try to save a bad dish. I know a lot of us are on a budget so if a meal goes bad it can be pretty dang frustrating. But if it’s too far gone, take a deep breath and let it be. It’s not worth it and it’ll only make your hanger worse. Instead, rummage through your pantry and I bet you can whip something up. One of my favorite go-to’s is a simple rice bowl or an Asian peanut pasta. Peep the recipes below! And if you’ve got nothing and you can swing it, there’s always delivery!
Last Minute Rice Bowl
- 1cup of rice
- 1tbsp butter
- soy sauce
- sesame seeds
Boil your rice according to instructions. Once it’s ready let it sit off the heat with the lid on for 10 minutes. When you’re nearing the end of the 10 minutes, fry up an egg. While your oil is heating up for the fried egg, scoop your rice into a bowl. Plop your 1tbsp of butter and a few dashes of soy sauce in the rice and mix until the butter is melted. When your egg is ready place it on top of the rice and sprinkle sesame seeds.
Extras: You can also use everything bagel seasoning instead of sesame seeds! Feel free to add literally anything to this bowl. Sometimes I roast up sweet potato cubes, sauté caramelized onion, use fresh green onion or add frozen peas or edamame on top (cooked of course). It’s really a whatever you have that you can throw together last minute bowl.
Sunday Morning Pasta
- Box of whatever noodles you have
- 1tbsp of butter
- soy sauce
- 1-2 tbsp peanut butter
- sesame seeds
So this is a recipe my partner and I used to make on Sunday mornings in college after a long Saturday night. Boil your pasta to al dente then drain in a colander. Place the pasta back in a pot and add in 1tbsp of butter until melted. Once melted add in your peanut butter (or any nut butter) and few dashes of soy sauce. Stir and taste to see if you need to adjust. Place in a bowl and top with sesame seeds for texture. Don’t knock it till you try it!
What are some cooking mistakes you’ve run into? If I’ve left any that you’ve experienced let me know in a comment and I’d be happy to help!
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Remember to be brave in trying new things and always cook with a dash of love!
Until next time,
Haley | Creator of Haley’s Kitchen
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