Here are some hints and tips for how to rescue a dish that is too salty. Salt is a key ingredient in cooking but too much of it can be overpowering and unpleasant.
What is salt?
Saltiness is one of the 5 basic tastes sensations that humans can detect and one of the most important. The New York Times recently published an article saying it is “The single most important ingredient“. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation.
There is evidence of salt processing from approximately 8,000 years ago in both Romania and China. Salt was prized by many civilizations throughout history and indeed, wars have been fought over it due to the combination of scarcity and high demand.
Salt is essential for life in general including humans. However, salt consumption can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension.
Edible salt is usually a refined salt containing 97-99% sodium chloride as well as an anti-caking agent. It naturally occurs in many items of food but usually at low levels. Salt is often added to processed foods where it adds flavor and asks acts as a preservative.
What should you do if you put too much salt to a dish?
Don’t panic! There are a number of techniques you can use to make a dish less salty.
- Add liquid: If your soup or casserole or sauce is too salty, you can try and dilute the overly salty taste by adding more water. This will decrease the concentration of salt and hopefully improve the flavor. Start by adding a small amount of water and taste before adding more. You may need to add more non-salty ingredients to achieve the desired consistency. Depending on the dish you could add cream instead of water.
- Salty meat (mid or after cooking): If the meat you are cooking is too salty, you can try rinsing it under running water to remove the excess salt on the outside. Pat it dry with a clean towel or paper towel before returning to the heat.
- Salty meat (before cooking): you can soak salty meat in water for a few hours before cooking. The salt will leach out of the meat and into the water.
- Add vinegar or lemon juice: a common remedy to counteract overly salty food is to add some acid eg lemon or vinegar. Only a relatively small amount will cut through the saltiness to make sure you don’t overdo it, add a few drops then taste to see if it has improved.
- Counteract with sweetness: salt is often balanced by sweetness so you can try adding sugar to your recipe to remove any overpowering salty flavors. As always, add a small amount first and then re-taste.
- Bulk out the dish with other unsalted ingredients: an alternative option for diluting the salt ratio is to add other, non-salty ingredients. You can bulk out a recipe with additional vegetables or carbs. This will mean the existing salt is distributed across more ingredients making any one mouthful taste less salty.
- The magic potato fix: this is potentially a bit of an old wife’s tale but apparently if you add a whole potato, including the skin, to your dish and as it cooks it will absorb some of the salt. Just remember to remove the potato before serving!
Tips to prevent food from becoming too salty:
- Don’t add additional salty ingredients to your dish e.g. Anchovies
- Avoid using too many canned, pickled, salted or processed ingredients
- Measure salt carefully and never over the pan you are cooking in
- Always ceck the lid of the salt shaker before you tip it up!
- Add seasoning in small doses – it’s much easier to add more than it is to remove it
- Add seasoning at the end. As liquids evaporate, it can concentrate the saltiness of a dish