Chatelaine Kitchen

5 common cooking mistakes and how to fix them

Too thin, salty or spicy? We've got a fix for that.

Stirring a pot of soup

No matter how experienced you are in the kitchen, mistakes happen. As frustrating as it may be, those mistakes help you become a better home cook (and teach you what to do the next time around). Here are a few simple tricks for fixing common cooking mistakes.

If it’s too spicy.
If there’s a little too much heat, there are a few things you can do:

  • Try adding more of the non-spicy ingredients. Stirring in some extra vegetables or liquids will dilute the spice and better yet, give you extras for leftovers!
  • Add a little sugar; in small amounts, sugar can counteract the heat. But, since great meals are all about balance, you may need to add additional salt and something acidic until you hit the right notes.
  • Serve it with dairy; a tall glass of milk with a bowl of chili or a refreshing raita alongside a curry will cut through the heat of the dish.

If it’s too salty.
When it comes to salt, a little goes a long way. While you can’t take out the salt, there are a couple of tricks to try and salvage your dish:

  • Diluting with water or no-sodium broth is the best way to mellow out the salt in soups and stews.
  • Adding a touch of acidity can take off the edge of a salty dish. But just like when something’s too spicy, make sure to balance it out with additional sweetness and heat if needed.

If it’s too thin.
Is the consistency of your sauce, stew or soup way off? Luckily, this is one of the simplest cooking mistakes to fix:

  • Create a slurry by dissolving cornstarch in a little bit of the liquid from the dish, and then add back in to help it thicken. (Equal parts cornstarch to liquid will work.)
  • For richer dishes, make a beurre manié by mixing equal parts softened butter and flour until combined, then stirring it into your hot liquid. It will thicken the sauce and add a buttery note. 

If it’s too thick.
Like a sauce that is too thin, a dish that is too thick is a simple fix! All you need to do is add more of the recipe’s cooking liquid — such as wine, broth or cream. 

If it’s bland.
Sometimes a dish might look perfect, but it tastes bland and you’re not quite sure what to do about it. This can be the most frustrating mistake, but don’t stress – there are a couple of things to try before dumping it in the garbage.

  • Add a little salt. Most bland dishes are usually just under-seasoned, but be careful not to add too much at once, you don’t want your dish to go from bland to salty.
  • Brighten up the flavours with acidity. Depending on the dish, try using lemon or lime juice, vinegar and even wine.

Three things you can do to try and avoid making these mistakes:

1. Carefully reading recipes start to finish before beginning

2. Watching your food as you cook

3. Tasting as you go.

Originally published April 2015. Updated May 2017.

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