And no, pepper is not the answer.
Maybe you caught your significant other's side eye when you tipped the salt a little too long into your soup for his or her taste, or perhaps the cap on your shaker decided today was its last day on earth and took a suicide dive into your salmon dish. There is no going back when you've over-salted your food, you might think. But you'd be wrong.
In fact, many over-salted foods can be saved from dried-out disaster. Here's how.
If you've over-salted a steak or chicken you've popped into a pan or placed on a grill, you can pull it back off the heat and give it a salt-cleansing bath, so to speak, says Raymond Southern, executive chef of The Mansion Restaurant on Orcas Island. Rinse the meat using hot water, "give it a really quick re-grill or sear, let it rest, and then serve," Southern says.
But if your rinsing rescue mission fails, you can still save the meat by slicing and tossing it into a hardy salad, suggests Jim Booth, chef at ArtBar in Cambridge, Mass. Using frisée, cabbage, or romaine will help your salad stand up to the heavy meat, Booth says, while adding a mild cheese like mozzarella to the mix will balance the salad.
If you find you've over-salted any vegetables you've sautéed with butter or oil, bring them back from the brink of salty disaster by pureeing them. "Over-seasoned vegetables can get a new life as a puree that you can fold into pastas or stuff in raviolis, or as a base for a great dip," says Mike Friedman, chef of The Red Hen and All Purpose in Washington, D.C.
For example, "let's say your broccoli is over seasoned," Friedman says. "Throw it in the food processor with sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic powder, onion powder, and chives" to make an impromptu dip to save for your next get together—or eat as a late-night snack tonight.
There's nothing like too much salt to ruin chicken noodle soup. But there's an easy pantry-staple fix to this problem: Grab a potato, any potato, quarter it, and toss it into your pot. As Booth explains, the potato will absorb some of the salt in the broth. Just remove the potato as soon as it's cooked through. Or, if you'd dig some extra veggies in your already-healthy dinner, grab a handful of cooked beans, puree them, and use them to thicken your soup, Booth says.
If you're already cooking a pureed soup, like potato soup, it's time to double your recipe, says Southern. "Blend in more of whatever the soup is—potatoes, spinach, zucchini—and also add more stock," he instructs, until the taste returns to a salt level you can stand.
You know you should add salt to your pasta cooking water, but too much of the salty liquid can destroy a dish—even after the pasta is drained. So, if you fear you've over-salted your pasta water, drain the farfalle or linguine, then rinse it under cold water, which will stop its cooking and cleanse it of excess salt, says Lorenzo Boni, executive chef of Barilla.
Already added your pasta to a sauce? Then add some sweetness with fresh or canned tomatoes, tomato juice or tomato paste, fresh basil, sautéed zucchini, bell peppers, or mushrooms, depending on what will most complement your pasta dish, Boni recommends.
Once you've salted your fish—say, a nice salmon fillet or a cod—you have to cook it right away. If not, "you'll pull out a lot of moisture in the fish making it dry and unpleasant," warns Booth. That means if you've over-salted your fish, you have to jump into action ASAP.
Poaching fish, such as salmon, in a flavorful but unseasoned broth is a super simple way to save your over-salted uncooked fillet, Booth says. But if you already baked, broiled, fried, or otherwise cooked your fish, you'll have to repurpose it. Think: fish cakes, the less expensive version of crab cakes, made with a little mayo, bread crumbs and potatoes—all ingredients that will help absorb or reduce the saltiness of the fish, says Booth.