Tips & Techniques

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

June 27, 2018

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.

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.

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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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7 Comments

bas26 July 5, 2018
To improve the taste of ground turkey, I use 1 tsp. of soy sauce to 1 lb. ground turkey to make meatballs of any kind. It does make the turkey taste beefier. Also, before grilling a steak, drizzle a small amount of soy sauce on each side then let sit for 10-15 minutes, turning 1-2 times. Then, drizzle a little salt and pepper and rub olive oil on each side before grilling. It adds a little richness to even good cuts of meat.
 
Fran M. July 1, 2018
I was taught to add a raw potato or 3 cut in 1/2 cook the potato in whatever was over salted when the potato is cooked throw it out because it will be too salty. It has worked for me.
 
Author Comment
Katie M. July 3, 2018
Love this :) Thank you for sharing!
 
J8m June 28, 2018
Best trick to save over salted soups, sauces or dessings is to add small amounts of Yellow Mustard! I learned this from a friend and fellow chef. We had made Lobster Bisque and didn't have the needed shells and had to go with more base than we would have liked. It was pretty salty. We had 35 gallons of overly salty Lobster Bisque for a large wedding. The asst mgr tasted it and blew a gasket! He sent in the manger. By this time we added just under one serving spoon of yellow mustard. The managers reaction when he tasted it. " taste fine to me I don't understand what Frank is talking about it being way to salty, if anything for some would probably want more salt" <br />Well Frank came storming back into the kitchen after a quick chat with the manager. He tasted it again and demanded to know how we fixed in such short time.<br />We (the cooks and kitchen staff) didn't really like Frank. He was the cef before me and was always second guessing me and the staff.<br />We never to this day let ole Frank know our little "trick" that saved the wedding.<br />This happened in the late 1980's and has been a live saver ever since!! :) :) :)
 
Author Comment
Katie M. June 28, 2018
Woah, so cool! Do you mean mustard powder or simply the kind from the jar? Super eager to learn more 🤓🤓🤓
 
Melanie F. June 27, 2018
Went to make quick guacamole with 3 avocados and accidentally dropped in way more sea salt than I needed. Back to Kroger for 6 more avocados!
 
Author Comment
Katie M. June 28, 2018
Hope they were ripe enough!