During the holidays there are a lot of tasty foods being served, but there is also a lot of pressure on the cook’s plate to execute those dishes. Juggling appetizers, a roast, home-made rolls, a few different sides, and dessert can be a marathon cooking experience. Even the best chefs, professional or not, will run into a few kitchen blunders while cooking. Realizing you’ve made a mistake on a dish when it’s an hour away from dinner time doesn’t have to cue the alarms or a mad dash to the grocery store. There are a few tricks that can remedy some of the most common mistakes we all make from time to time, and you will already have most of the tools or alternative ingredients you’ll need at home.
1. Spiced Beyond Belief
This is one of the most common mistakes. To prevent over-seasoning make sure to taste your dish multiple times throughout cooking. If the culprit is too much salt your options depend on the dish itself. If it’s a sauce, soup, or stew you can add more water to balance it, add cream to temper it, or you can also add potatoes that will help soak up some of the excess. If you’ve oversalted a dish that isn’t inherently liquidy you can use a splash of lemon or vinegar as acidity helps cut through the salt. Adding a sweetener like brown sugar or honey can also relieve some saltiness by adding a new flavor profile. If you’re food is too spicy the same fixes apply.
2. Too Tough to Chew
Overcooked meat is a tough one (no pun intended). If your meat is too dry your option is to shred it, and restore some moisture to it with a sauce. You can also slice the meat very thinly against the grain which will help to break down the its fibers for easier chewing. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cleanly slice the meat and serve it with an herb sauce. To prevent this in the future I highly suggest using a meat thermometer to check its progress while cooking.
3. Fried Food Missing the Crisp
Fried foods that turn out soggy and limp is usually because the oil was not hot enough when the food was added or the pan was overcrowded. If your oil doesn’t sizzle when a drop of water hits it, any food you drop into it will just soak up the oil like a sponge. If you’re cooking vegetables or fries when this happens you can strain excess oil from the food by letting it rest on paper towels, and then re-fry it. The second time around make sure your oil is at a higher temperature. For fried meats that miss the crisp, though, this method isn’t advised.
4. The Mystery of Charred & Raw All At Once
Having a nice brown or markings on the outside of our meat is desired but impatience can lead to a charred outside and a raw middle. If this ever happens simply take the meat off the skillet and place it in an oven that’s been heated to 300 degrees. Let the meat slow cook in the oven until the inside and outside are even, checking with your meat thermometer.
5. From Green to Goop
When cooking greens like broccoli, spinach, kale, and green beans pay attention to the color changes you see as it cooks. When you see the broccoli is a brilliant green pull it from the pan or oven. Vegetables, like meat, will continue to keep cooking even after you take them off the heat source and bring them to the table. If your vegetables become mushy I suggest pureeing them in a blender for a simple soup, or bake them with a hard cheese for a quick gratin that tastes delicious.
Remember that some great dishes can be born from the mistakes that changed ingredients or the preparation for the better; so if your gut says ‘This will still taste good,’ everyone else’s will probably agree!
What was one of your best kitchen blunders, and how’d you fix it?