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Cooking Mistakes Fixed: Food too Salty? Spicy? Watery?

Food too salty? Spicy? Watery? Don’t panic. Karen Fittall finds out how to fix five common cooking slip-ups.

TOO LUMPY

WHISK: a sauce or gravy vigorously, by hand, using a figure-eight motion, to help break up any larger lumps that have formed. Consider adding a small amount of water or stock to make the sauce slightly thinner, which will make whisking easier.

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SIEVE: the sauce to remove any large lumps that won’t budge, taking care not to press any chunks of flour through the sieve.

BLEND: the strained sauce with a hand or stick blender. As a final step, this will eliminate any smaller lumps that survived the whisking or sieving, to produce a silky smooth, lump-free result. If
you’ve only got a kitchen blender let the sauce cool first – blending piping-hot liquids can blow the blender’s lid off, which not only results in a lot of mess, it can give you a nasty burn, too.

TOO SALTY:

DILUTE: it with water if it’s a liquid-based dish, like a soup, casserole or a sauce that’s too salty.

You may need to recheck and adjust other flavours, such as spices, chilli or mustard, if they’ve lost their kick.

DISGUISE: the too-salty flavour by adding something acidic. Take your pick from lemon juice or vinegar, depending on what goes best with the dish. For example, try vinegar for tomato-based dishes, and lemon juice for chicken, or either for fish.

COMPENSATE: for it by adding more of the dish’s main ingredients, like rice and vegetables or tinned beans, lentils or tomatoes to provide some more low-salt flavours and textures to the dish. This will also help to bulk it out if you’ve added extra water. Just make sure any tinned ingredients you add don’t contain added salt.

TOO WELL DONE

BLAST: it in the freezer to prevent any further cooking. This tip works particularly well for things like pastry cases, biscuits, nuts, seeds and coconut that you’re toasting or baking in the oven or on the stove-top, but only if it’s overcooked rather than burned. Pop the food on a cold tray and place it in the freezer until it’s cooled completely.

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PAIR: it with a sauce, gravy or reduction, even if that wasn’t part of the original dish. It’s a simple way to provide moisture to overdone dry roasted or barbecued meats and vegetables.

REINVENT: it by thinking about other ways of serving the food. Consider blitzing mushy vegetables with some seasoning and stock in a blender to turn them into a puree instead. Or, shred over-cooked meat and serve it in a pie or as a illing for dumplings or ravioli – any dish where you can also add some liquid and a bit of fat back into the meal, which are the two things overcooked meat lacks.

TOO WATERY

COOK: it for a bit longer, without a lid or cover. That allows any liquid that’s released by water-dense vegetables as you’re cooking them, like mushrooms, to ‘cook off’. Extra minutes spent on the
heat also gives stews or saucy dishes, as well as gravies, time to reduce and thicken up.

THICKEN: it with a thickening agent, like cornflour, which is virtually tasteless. Just make sure you blend it with a small amount of cold water before you add it to the dish you need to thicken up. If you add cornflour directly into hot liquid, it’ll go lumpy.

ADD: dry ingredients to bulk up ‘wet’ dishes like casseroles, stews and curries – they will absorb the excess liquid as they cook. Rice, pasta and lentils are all good options.

TOO SPICY

TAME: it with dairy. That contains casein, a protein that’s able to bind to the molecules in capsaicin (the compound that gives chilli its heat) to help neutralise them. Add products like milk, sour cream or yoghurt to curries before serving.

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MASK: the heat with sugar, which can help hide the fact that you’ve added too much chilli or spice to a dish. Add it in small amounts and always re-taste before adding more. Or, if it suits the dish, add an ingredient with natural sugars, such as tomatoes. Citrus juice can also help.

ACCOMPANY: the dish with a neutral-flavoured, starch-based side dish, like boiled rice, couscous, bread or plain boiled potatoes. Like the casein in dairy food, the molecules in starchy foods can help to ease the ‘chilli burn’ in your mouth as you’re eating.

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