I’m sure it’s happened to you – you forgot to taste one more time and added more salt anyway and then realized that suddenly your stew/soup/sauce was so salty it was inedible.
For years I thought the answer was to add one of these three starchy foods:
That was the solution I suggested on my live call in show, “Cooking Live,” on the food network.
Then one day, a few years ago I was reading a new book I had picked up about food science:
and realized I was completely wrong. Robert L. Wolke, the author of the book and professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh conducted an experiment with potato slices cooked in various degrees of salted water and discovered this:
“…the potato simmered in plain water was bland, the potato simmered in the one-teaspoon-per-quart water was salty, and the potato simmered in the one- tablespoon-per-quart water was much saltier. Does this mean that the potato actually absorbed salt from the “soups?”
No, All it means is that the potatoes soaked up some salt water, they didn’t selectively extract the salt from the water. Would you be surprised if a sponge placed in salt water came out tasting salty? Of course not. The concentration of salt in the water – the amount of salt per quart – would not be affected. So the salty taste of the potatoes proved nothing, except that for more flavor we should always boil our potatoes – and our pasta, for that matter – in salted water rather than plain water. “
Of course I didn’t believe him. I went into my kitchen at Gourmet and did the experiment myself with potatoes, pasta and rice and found out that he was completely right.
So what is the solution for saving a salty dish?
Add more water.
G. John Marmet Says:
July 20th, 2012 at 3:42 pm
What you say makes, sense, but, to remove the salt, should you not then drain the water (once the salt level in the dish has stabilized)? That is, adding water does nothing to the overall saltiness of the dish if you then allow the water to evaporate in cooking. You have to pull it, and the salt it contains, out before you have a less salty dish.
But then I am a tax lawyer not a chef (though I play one at home).
Jo Ann Himmelberger Says:
July 21st, 2012 at 2:53 pm
Wouldn’t adding more water just dilute the flavors of the rest of the dish? just wondering?
Joantha Argoudelis Says:
July 24th, 2012 at 10:11 pm
If I add more water to my sauce to reduce the saltiness, I’m afraid then that the sauce will be too watery. Is this
Amanda Dake Says:
July 26th, 2012 at 10:56 pm
I did this once… I oversalted some beef stew I was making. I was at the beef browning stage with only onions, garlic, salt and pepper… too much salt… so I added two quarts of water and “rinsed the meat” pouring the liquid through a sieve. I added the meat back to the pot, then I added some of the strained liquid back to the stew and some plain water. It worked great. I saved the rest of the salty broth and used it to cook rice.
Sara Moulton Says:
July 27th, 2012 at 9:22 pm
You can always thicken it with a slurry – a mixture of flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot with water. But the sauce will lose some flavor by adding the extra water, there is nothing else you can do to get rid of that salty taste, alas.
Sara Moulton Says:
July 27th, 2012 at 9:25 pm
yes, cream will help because you are adding more unsalted liquid to the sauce. Water does dilute the flavors so if you can add other non salted flavorful liquids like unsalted stock or tomatoes, that will help to minimize the salt content while adding some flavor.
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