Just about every food needs salt, but you can sometimes overdo it. Luckily, there are ways you can redeem a main meal or a side with other ingredients and techniques. It may seem like magic, but the reality is basic chemistry. Our tongues have five tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami – so playing with the ingredient proportions in a dish brings out or reduces certain tastes. Here are the easiest methods for saving a dish that’s too salty:
Add white rice
You’ve heard the old add-potatoes tip when it comes to salty soups and stews, but potatoes actually don’t absorb that much salt. Instead, try pureeing cooked white rice with water and add it to your dish. The rich starchiness absorbs the salt while thickening the soup or stew. This tip also works with chili and sauces.
Add a bit of dairy
Dairy is cooling and the slightly-tangy flavor of yogurt or sour cream contrasts saltiness. This works best in soups and sauces where there’s already dairy. Fat cuts through overly-salty flavors, neutralizing them. If you can’t add dairy to your dish, try whipping up a quick dairy-based side dish to serve alongside.
Sweet and salty are a classic flavor pairing, so it makes sense to counter too much salt with a little sugar. There are a lot of sweet ingredients – maple syrup, honey, and regular white sugar – that can add depth to your dish while fixing the salt problem. Add very small amounts at a time and taste, so you don’t add too much.
Add lemon juice
Lemon juice in particular is really good at finishing dishes because it adds a subtle freshness. Other citruses or acids like vinegar are also options, but if you just want to cut down on the salt and not add another flavor, a squirt of lemon juice is the way to go.
Adding unsalted liquid to a sauce, stew, or stock will reduce the salty flavor. You can use water, tomato sauce, or stock, depending on the specific recipe.
If you’ve over-salted a meat or vegetable, it’s easy to just rinse it off. It will lose whatever other seasoning you’ve added, but then you can re-season it properly.