Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: Next time you over-season your dish, don't panic -- just follow these tips.
We've all been there. You're expecting guests at any moment, you've just popped open a bottle of wine, and you turn your slaved-over soup down to a simmer. You dip in your finger for a quick taste test, and then recoil. You've gone way overboard on the salt, and your tongue tastes like you just jumped, open-mouthed, into an oncoming wave. Or maybe your eyes tear up, heat rises to your cheeks, and you start fanning yourself before finally sticking your mouth under the kitchen faucet. After the initial shock comes confusion, regret, and then, finally, panic. The doorbell rings as your first guest arrives. (Who gets to a party on time, anyway?)
Overseasoning is a tragedy, and it can happen to you. In fact, it's an issue that's been floating around our hotline for years, in one form or another. But if you follow these emergency guidelines, you can resuscitate a meal on the edge of death -- and turn a near-tragedy into a victory.
All great meals are about balance. The five tastes -- sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami -- should all complement each other, without any specific one hogging the limelight. When one of those tastes becomes too strong, the dish will taste off. Obviously, depending on the desired finished product, certain tastes will be more dominant -- but they must be kept in check.
When faced with an over-seasoned dish, your first move should be to try to balance out the flavors. Typically, this is done by playing with sugars and acids. Try adding a squeeze of lemon or a spoonful of sugar to your dish, then taste test again and proceed from there. Depending on the dish, switch up the acid and sugar sources -- sub in vinegar for citrus, or honey in for sugar.
Second resort: dilution. If you're making a soup or a curry, add water, unsalted broth, coconut milk, or cream to dilute the excess seasoning. Increasing the volume of the dish will spread out the spice or salt, and make each individual serving more palatable.
If it wouldn't make sense to add more liquid to your dish, say, if it's a salad or a pilaf, try adding more bulk to put things on an even keel. Rice, beans, or any other other neutral grain will help round out the flavor.
If none of these methods help ease your palate, there are a few more specific cures to target your overseasoning dilemmas.
If Your Dish is Too Spicy...
When it comes to spice, dairy is the best neutralizer. This is because chilis contain capsaicin, a substance which makes your tastebuds feel that fiery burn. Milk contains casein, a compound which bonds with capsaicin and helps dissipate it. Next time you want to dial back the spice level on a dish, try stirring in a few spoonfuls of yogurt or sour cream -- and next time you're dared to eat a whole jalapeño pepper, be sure to have a glass of milk handy.
Another ingredient that can help combat spice is nut butter. Rich in fat, nut butters will mellow out the fire in your dishes -- just make sure its flavors will play well with the other ingredients. Creamy avocados can also help soothe a burning tongue.
If Your Dish is Too Salty...
Have you heard of the potato myth? It's the rumor that dropping a raw potato into an over-salted soup will "draw out" some of the salt. Sorry to break it to you, but this myth is 100% that -- a myth. Busted.
While raw potatoes do indeed draw out some of the salt from a liquid, they also absorb a proportionate amount of liquid. Sorry, spud. If you dish is too salty, and dilution isn't helping, sweetness is usually the best way to balance it out.
All caution aside, don't be shy with your seasoning. Professional chefs say that most home cooks err on the side of caution and under-season their food. The solution, which you should adopt from here on out, is to salt as you go. This is also an excellent excuse to sneak samples of whatever you're cooking up.
How do you correct a dish that's too salty or spicy? Tell us in the comments!