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How to Save A Dish That's Too Spicy (or Sweet, or Salty, or Rich)

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One of the cardinal cooking rules is to taste as you go, adjusting a little of this or that to craft the perfect plate. But even the best chefs have off days. Your BBQ sauce is tooth-achingly sweet, the chili lights your mouth on fire, or potato salad tastes like the Dead Sea. Don’t fret—there’s a way to fix your broken dish.

In their latest guide to speedy dinners, Dinner Illustrated, the editors of America’s Test Kitchen outline exactly what to add when food is too salty, sweet, spicy, rich, or simply feels a little flat.

“While salt and pepper are always a consideration for final tweaks, our test cooks also look to a range of other pantry ingredients that can help bring a dish into the right balance,” they write.

There's no way you can mess this dish up

Below, we’ve shared their smart tips. But don’t overdo it (remember how we got here!), you just want to start with a pinch or teaspoon.

If your food is too salty...

Add an acid such as lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar; or a sweetener like sugar, honey, maple syrup, or fruit jam.

If your food is too sweet...

Add an acid or seasonings such as lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar; chopped fresh herbs, citrus zest, or a dash of cayenne for savory dishes, liqueur or instant espresso for sweet dishes.

If your food is too spicy or acidic...

Add a fat such as butter, olive oil, heavy cream, cheese, or sour cream; or sweetener like sugar, honey, maple syrup, or fruit jam.

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If your food is too rich...

Add an acid such as lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, or pickled vegetables (such as jalapeños).

If your food is too flat...

Add a salty and/or savory boost such as Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, miso, Parmesan cheese, anchovies, tomato paste, mushrooms, sherry.

Another option? Follow Catherine Lamb’s expert advice and dilute your spicy or salty food. Use water, unsalted broth, or cream to create more volume (and spread out the spice or salt). If you can’t add liquid, serve over rice, potatoes, or other neutral grains to balance everything out.

How have you saved an over-seasoned dish? Share your best remedies in the comments below!

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