Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you wind up with a dish that is just too salty. It happens to the best of cooks. The following solutions can help you work your way out of an over-salted dish so you can save your meal.
With foods you cook on the stovetop such as soups and stews, you can dilute the level of salt. Try the following:
- Add additional salt-free broth. Do not use salted broth, or you'll just wind up with a larger portion of too salty soup or stew.
- Add water. Then, to rebuild missing flavor, add extra aromatic herbs such as thyme, garlic powder, or onion powder. Do not add additional salt without first tasting to adjust seasonings.
- Remove a portion of the over salted broth or sauce (about a quarter to a half of it) and replace it with unsalted broth. This works well in chunky soups such as vegetable or chicken noodle. Be sure you leave all of the vegetables in the soup and just strain out broth.
Add Other Ingredients
Adding other ingredients to soups and stews may help remove or redistribute salt.
- Add uncooked, unseasoned starches, such as noodles, barley, quinoa, or rice and allow them to cook in the over-salted broth or sauce. The starches will absorb some of the salt to become more flavorful. While this still may require some dilution, it may require less and the starches will be flavorfully seasoned.
- Add several slices of peeled, raw potato to the soup or stew and allow it to cook until it begins to soften. While it cooks it will absorb some of the salt. Then, remove the potato from the soup or stew. Adjust seasonings as necessary by diluting with unseasoned broth.
- Add more uncooked vegetables to a vegetable soup or stew. They will become seasoned and will help spread the salty flavor.
- Add uncooked legumes, which will absorb salt as they cook. This may take quite a while, since legumes such as kidney beans take a long time to cook, and it will alter the dish you were originally making, but in some cases this is a great solution.
Double or Triple the Recipe
This technique is similar to diluting. If you make a stew, sauce, soup, or vinaigrette that is over salty, make another batch or two without any salt. Then, mix all of the recipes together and season appropriately (or not at all). You can always freeze leftovers and have a few extra perfectly seasoned meals available in the weeks to come. This also works well for stir frys (leave out extra salty soy sauce), grains, casseroles, mayonnaise-based salads like tuna salad, and egg dishes.
Attempt to Balance Flavors
If you're make a sauce, soup, or stew, you may also be able to add other flavors to balance flavor profiles. To understand this technique, you must first understand the flavor profiles: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (or savory). If you have too much salt, you can attempt to save the dish by adding a different flavor profile to balance the salt. Keep in mind this will essentially create a different dish or sauce than that with which you started, but it can still be a delicious sauce, nonetheless.
- Sweet - Add a few teaspoons of honey, sugar, brown sugar, agave, maple syrup, or some other sweetener. Work 1/2 teaspoon at a time and taste as you go to make sure you don't wind up with something that is overly sweet.
- Sour - Add the juice of a lemon, lime, or orange, or add vinegar such as white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Work 1/2 teaspoon at a time and taste frequently to ensure you don't wind up too sour.
- Bitter - Bitterness and salt are not a great combination, so you probably don't want to try to adjust the saltiness by adding bitterness.
- Umami - Savoriness is often interpreted as saltiness - the two are quite similar in flavor profiles, so adding umami probably won't balance salty flavors.
If you've over-salted vegetables after cooking them, you may be able to wash away much of the salt by rinsing the vegetables in warm water and re-seasoning them. If you cooked the vegetables with the salt, chances are the salt has penetrated the vegetables and you will not be able to rinse salt away.
You may also be able to rinse noodles that have been cooked in over-salted water. Rinse them and taste to see if they are overwhelmingly salty. If they are, you'll need to start over. If you can't rinse away the salty flavor and don't want to throw away food, use it in other recipes and adjust salt accordingly.
Wipe Salt Off
In some cases, you can wipe extra salt away from the surface of over-salted meats or animal proteins. This only works if you salt after cooking. If you've over-salted a steak and the steak has absorbed the salt, you may need to switch directions and cut the meat up for use in an unseasoned recipe such as a soup or stew. Tomato-based soups or stews work well for this purpose, because tomatoes are acidic and can balance salty flavors.
In baked goods, there really is no solution to over salting a recipe unless you catch it right away.
- If you haven't yet mixed wet and dry ingredients, but have added too much salt to your dry ingredients, you can double or triple your recipe to match the amount of salt you added.
- If you've added too much salt and already mixed up your dough or batter, you'll just need to start over. This is because baking requires precise levels of certain ingredients to create the chemical and physical reactions necessary for the texture and flavor of the baked goods you are creating.
The key to fixing mistakes like over salting food is flexibility in the kitchen. That way, if your first plan doesn't work out you can quickly switch gears to create a dish that is properly seasoned.