Just the other night I suffered a kitchen disaster. I hate when that happens. I ruined an entire pot of pasta because I got busy and was not paying attention. By the time I realized, the pasta had cooked way beyond al dente, all the way to total mush.
It killed me to dump the whole thing down the disposal, but there was no way to undo that disaster.
Thankfully, that’s not true for every cooking mistake. This is a list you’re going to want to keep handy just in case.
Too much salt
It’s a common cooking mistake. If you’ve added far too much salt to a sauce or soup and you have enough ingredients, double the recipe or make more by half, then mix it in with the salty batch a bit at a time until you’ve reached your desired flavor.
Another trick is to add a bit more unsalted water to the mix, provided this will not also dilute the flavor.
Don’t toss it until you’ve tried this neat trick: Use your cheese grater to quickly scrape off the burned layer. Works like magic!
The first sign of a cake that’s not done is that sinkhole in the middle. Once cooled you cannot re-bake it. But don’t worry. This is not a hopeless kitchen disaster.
If you’ve overcooked the broccoli, asparagus or similar vegetables don’t despair. Just tweak your menu a bit to include creamed vegetable soup—cooking mistake averted!
Place the mushy vegetables in the food processor, add hot chicken broth or stock, spices and fresh cream. Process until smooth.
Chopped vegetables could also be combined with chicken, butter, and cornstarch and placed in a prepared pie shell for a pot pie. If it’s carrots or sweet potatoes you need to rescue, whip them together with eggs and pumpkin pie spices to create a soufflé. Follow these basics.
Burnt pudding, custard, soup
Even the most seasoned chefs have been known to burn a custard or two. If you notice that the bottom layer of custard or cream-based soup has turned dark, stop stirring immediately. You don’t want to incorporate any of the burned bottom into the burnt portions.
Pour the remaining custard, pudding or cream into a new pan making sure you don’t scrape up any of the part that’s scorched at the bottom and keep cooking.
If taking a taste of the chili, stew or soup sends you running for a glass of anything that will put out the fire, try adding more of every other ingredient except the spices. A raw potato might absorb some of the heat, but don’t expect miracles. Adding hot water is also a technique that may bring down the temperature.
There are several techniques you can try to thicken the sauce. Work some flour into small amounts of butter. Bring the sauce to boil and drop them in one at a time, while stirring, until the sauce is your desired thickness.
Cornstarch is usually a good thickener, provided you have mixed it with cold water first, and add it to the boiling liquid a little at a time while stirring. Some cooks use dried potato flakes as an emergency thickener.
Sometimes a tomato-based sauce will become too acidic for guests. When dealing with an acid, the neutralizing agent should be a base. Try adding 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda at a time to the sauce to reduce acidity.
Some cooks prefer to add sugar for the same reason. Sugar can also reduce the acidity of tomatoes used in salads.
Rescue the pot
Sometimes a burned-on mess cannot be saved. But the pot or pan can be. Try this: Add hot water and a capful or two of fabric softener. Allow the pan to sit undisturbed for a few hours. The fabric softener should loosen most of the burnt food and allow you to remove it with a spatula.
First Appeared: 7-11-14; Updated 3-18-19