Saving an Over-Salted Dish

SimplySmartDinnerPlans subscriber Anna, asks:

I’m still learning how to cook and sometime have issues with over or under-spicing my dishes, especially with salt. How do I fix an over-salted dish, or can I? – Anna H.

Thanks for your question, Anna!

We have all, at one time or another, gotten too generous with the salt shaker. Sometimes it’s a slip of the hand, and sometimes we just forget to take into account how much a liquid will reduce (which intensifies the flavors – especially salt.)

First, and foremost…

Aside from the lid of the shaker coming off mid-sprinkle (and we’ll talk about that  a second) most dishes that have been over salted, CAN be saved.

However, the best advice I can give you is…don’t over-salt your food.

(Duh – right?)

Seriously, before we take on the task of un-salting, here are three keys to NOT over-salting/over spicing in the first place:

Saving an over-salted dish

1. Taste your dish every few minutes during the cooking. This is a cornerstone of good cooking. The taste, consistency, and intensity of salts, herbs, and spices, can and will change dramatically over the cooking time of a dish. The more ingredients, the more wildly the flavor combinations will vary.

Taste often, and adjust with a light hand. As my father used to tell the cooks in his kitchen: it’s a lot easier to add a little more salt, than it is to take it back out.

Saving an over-salted dish

2. Never add salt (or spices) directly from the container. It’s very hard to judge, especially with white salt, how much is actually going onto the food. Add steam, smoke, etc., and it’s nearly impossible.

If you watch food TV, you’ll notice that most chefs measure a little seasoning into the palm of their hands, and add it to the food from there. This is because they have learned over the years to know exactly what a 1/2 teaspoon, a teaspoon, a tablespoon, etc., looks like in their palm, and unlike a shaker or container, all that can end up in the pot is what they’ve pre-measured into their hand.

If you do the same, you’ll virtually eliminate over-seasoning issues in your kitchen.

3. Wait to salt. With most foods, it doesn’t really matter at what point during the cooking process that salt is added (pasta being an exception, as it must be boiled in salted water), so wait until the dish is almost done, before adding the majority of the salt.

That way, issues like natural saltiness, or reductions are less likely to surprise you in the finished dish.

Saving an Over-Salted Dish

Saving an Over-Salted Dish

Things like pasta and boiled veggies are fairly simple. If you catch it early (which is why, again, it’s important to taste, taste, and taste again, at all steps of the cooking process!) you can change out the simmering water, with fresh (unsalted) simmering water, and that will usually draw the excess saltiness out.

Note: never, never, never rinse pasta!

Saving an over-salted dish

For hunks of meat, ground meat, steaming veggies, etc., about all you can do is rinse (cold food-cold water, hot food-hot water), pat dry, return it to the pan, and re-season.

Saving an over-salted dish

Soups, stews, and sauces: peel and slices raw potato (russets seem to work best) and add them to a slowly simmering liquid. The potato will draw in the salty liquid. Remove the cooked potatoes and replace the liquid (with unsalted liquid).

Repeat as needed.

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Sometimes, in dishes like a casserole, chili, or a pasta dish that’s already been combined, about the only thing you can do is add more of the main ingredients (meat, pasta, rice, veggies) that have been cooked without out seasoning, mix them with the original ingredients, and continue cooking to dilute the saltiness.

With this method, if possible, be sure to give the whole dish an occasional stir while it’s finishing.

Saving an over-salted dish

Make sure to add more of your non-salty favoring ingredients (herbs, spices, etc.,) so the dish doesn’t become bland.

Also, if your dish would be complimented with an acidic component (and most are) try adding a little lemon or lime juice, as this will often reduce the perceived saltiness.Saving an over-salted dish

If none of that works, serve with lots of beer. :)

(I’m kidding…sort of…)

Chef Perry

PS – How about you? Any tips you can add for saving an over-salted dish?

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