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Sara's Kitchen Revelations – Oversalted it? There is one solution.

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.

salt, the culprit

 

 

For years I thought the answer was to add one of these three starchy foods:

 

pasta, potatoes, rice -- to the rescue?

 

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:

 

"What Einstein Told His Cook"

 

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.

 

23 Responses to Sara's Kitchen Revelations – Oversalted it? There is one solution.


  1. 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).

    • Anthony says:

      The best solution if its a soup dish, not a stew dish, is to just throw it out and make sure the next time be careful about salt.

  2. Wouldn’t adding more water just dilute the flavors of the rest of the dish? just wondering?
    I had a student put a 1 tbsp. of salt in a pot of French Onion Soup instead of a 1 tsp. we really could not dilute that by adding more water, it just diluted the rest of the flavors.
    I heard that if you have over salted soups or sauces to add cream to a salty dish it would help.
    thanks for the tips.

    • Sara Moulton says:

      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.

  3. Joantha Argoudelis says:

    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
    really a good solution?

    • Sara Moulton says:

      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.

  4. Amanda Dake says:

    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.

  5. carol koopmann says:

    I just got a xl pressure cooker and tried to make a pot roast. It did not turn out quite right; so I
    cut it up and added some beef stock. Now it is too salty. Is there someway to still save this
    expensive cut of meat??? Rinse it off with water, add tomatoes, or what?

    help.

    thanks.

    carol

    • moulton says:

      The meat is salty or the sauce is salty? if the meat is salty there is not much you can do. If the sauce is salty add some unsalted chicken broth.

  6. I fried fish….very salty . Any resolutions?

    • moulton says:

      This is a difficult problem because it does not involve liquid. If the sauce was too salty you could just add water, but if the fish is too salty there is no way to dilute the saltiness. You can disguise it a bit with a squeeze of lemon or perhaps some sour cream.

  7. Trisha says:

    I defrosted a package of frozen artichokes and marinated them in olive oil with salt and pepper. I grilled them in a grill basket and took them off the grill. As I went to salt them the shaker was open and they were covered with salt. Can I recover this?

  8. Elaine says:

    I made home made mashed potatoes and added to much salt what do I do

  9. dell says:

    I made a 5 qt. pot of chicken wings and rice, used Kosher salt, forgot use sparingly. Is there a way to save this dish?

    • moulton says:

      Alas, the only way to save it is to add more water. Or make another batch with no salt and combine the two. Bummer!

  10. Lyle Lariviere says:

    I made Ina Garten’s tomato soup. I forgot and added a second table spoon of salt. Solution – I added a can of garlic-basil diced tomatoes pureed with a little more cream and chicken broth. Perfect. The flavor was actually improved with the garlic-basil flavored diced tomatoes added. I plan to incorporate a can when I do the recipe again.

    • moulton says:

      smart idea Lyle. It goes to show that you can fix almost anything.

      • restaurant owner says:

        Without removing some of the liquid (and some of the flavor) replacing liquid with some other non salty liquid (diluting the salt ) there is no other way. HOWEVER, I have found a way to DISGUISE the saltiness and that is by adding strong red wine like Cabernet or Burgundy being careful not to add too much to completely change the flavor. Also chip dip or sour cream does well. Ya never know you may like it better!

  11. Camela says:

    So glad I found your article. I was making homemade bean soup, and added too much salt. After reading your article, I simply disposed of some of the liquid in it, added water and then also added back in some of the herbs and flavorings. Once it reboiled and I simmered it, the flavor and consistency was right back to the original. Thanks again.

  12. Irene says:

    Never use a salt shaker over your food. Shake some salt into yr hand over the sink or a dish so if the top falls off you are saved. To desalt my drowned-in-salt vegetable stew I added rice, more water, more fresh veggies, a cut up sweet apple, 2 teaspoons of sugar (one at a time to taste if it worked), and the juice and entire insides of 2 oranges (minus seeds) When I turned off the burner I added 2 dollops of plain yogurt and the contents of another orange. Not bad and no longer over salted. Then I went to the internet to see how to desalt food. I found I did rather well on my own. But why not use the internet first – less panic. Don’t forget – NEVER shake the contents of any spice container directly into your food. Good Luck!

  13. TARA says:

    I made a great pot of beef “taco” soup but forgot I was going to add the taco seasoning and salted the beef. If not for oversalting it was probably the best soup I’ve made in the last year at least. Made with stewing beef. I was sooo disappointed but ate some anyways. I think I’ll try adding some red wine to what’s left over tomorrow and see if that helps disguise it like someone suggested.

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