What to do when faced with cooking disasters ?


What do you do if the food gets too oily or salty or overcooked? How do you save a dish that has been destroyed? Can you reduce the oil in a dish or cut down the chilli. The next time a dish doesn't come out the way you expected it to, try these cooking hacks.

I was getting my cup of coffee ready this morning, when the smell of burning food wafted through the kitchen window. One of my neighbours would probably have a rough day today! Kitchen disasters are common. Even the most seasoned cooks can mess up in the kitchen. Add a tad bit extra salt or overcook the veggies or make the dish too spicy for the palette.

It doesn't matter how many times you cooked something to perfection. You can still get the proportion of the ingredients or the cooking time, wrong. An easy way out would be to flip the contents from the pan into the dustbin. But, that would amount to a lot of wastage - of effort, time, money and food. Would it not be nice, if you could salvage the food? The best cooks know how to work their way around food. This, in other words, means, that they have tricks up their sleeve, to fix dishes that go wrong.



I am sharing a few tricks that I picked up while mastering my culinary skills.

What to do with overcooked, mushy rice ?

I like rice where every grain stands out. I should be able to pick each grain between my fingers if I want to. So, mushy rice, in my parlance, is a disaster. You have to apply the right techniques to cook the rice to perfection. But, how the rice turns out could also depend on the age of the rice.

If you have a pan full of rice that has turned overly sticky, but the grains still maintain their shape you can make it look better.

Shift the rice in a colander and rinse it in cold water, using your fingers to gently separate the rice. This technique works if the rice is just a tad bit overcooked and has not split yet.

Alternatively, you can turn it into fried rice. Remember, frying the rice makes it crispier. So, experiment. Put the rice in a pan, be liberal with the oil, and toss the rice in it. Add chopped veggies and some soy sauce and then cook the veggies al dente, so every bite gives that extra crunch.

If fried rice doesn't fit into the menu of the day, use the mushy rice to make something else, while you cook a fresh batch of rice. Mushy rice could be turned into 'kheer' in a jiffy.

You can run the rice through a blender to a 'dosa' batter consistency and make rice pancakes, adding spices of choice to the batter. It could also be turned into 'dhokla'. The rice can be used as a binding agent for cutlets or spiced up and made into an interesting filling for 'puri'. The options are many but you just need to apply your mind and get innovative.

What to do if the food is too hot ?

The new packet of chilli powder that you opened is hotter than the one you used previously. Result – the dishes turn out extra hot. So, what's the fix?

If it is a meat dish, try adding some beaten curd to it. The curd can act a good neutralizer and can mellow down the spiciness of chilies rather efficiently. You can also blend in a paste of cashews or poppy seeds or melon seeds into the dish. They add a unique richness to the dish, improve the flavor and cut down on the hotness. Using thick fresh cream is another way of reducing the heat in a dish. I have tried coconut milk once and that worked remarkably well.

Another way of cutting the spice quotient is by adding vegetables to the dish. Potatoes are the favorite choice, but you can add a variety of veggies. Pureed spinach added to a meat dish will balance the chilies and enhance the flavors and the texture as well. I have grown up eating a combination of meat and veggies, so I would go ahead and add anything that I can lay my hands on – from turnips to cauliflower.

If it is a vegetarian dish, you could cook add some cooked tomatoes to it, even tomato puree will do. Dry vegetarian dishes can be a tad difficult to salvage, but you can still attempt to cut down the spice in them. If it's a 'bhindi sabzi' you could fry shallots or chopped onions in a bit of oil and mix into the dish. Similarly, cooked tomatoes can be added to an 'aloo gobhi sabzi'. Other ways of bringing down the fieriness of the chilies are by adding boiled vegetables such as peas, cauliflower and carrots etc. to the dish. 'Paneer' can also cut down the spice in a dish.

Lemon squeezed on the food also negates the heat.

What to do if the food has excess salt ?

Salty food is the easiest to fix. Add boiled potatoes to the dish and they will absorb the excess salt. If the dish is a soup, you can add some rice or noodles or pasta to it.

Another way of tackling the excess salt is by adding curd to the food. Vinegar can be added if the curd is unavailable. The hacks that work for excess chillies in the food, work well for excess salt as well.

What to do if the vegetables become over-cooked ?

If you are like me and want to be able to identify the veggies on your plate, you'll know what a put-off the site of a mushy mess can be. Vegetables must always maintain their crunch. Mushy veggies are difficult to salvage. There is no way that you can put that crunch back into something that has been overcooked. However, you can use those veggies to make something new and exciting.

Mushy veggies can be blended with your choice of herbs and spices and frozen in ice cube trays. You can then use these cubes to flavor your dishes or add them to soup or watery noodles. They retain their goodness of fibre and other nutrients.

Mash them into a pulp, mix with boiled and mashed potatoes or overcooked, mushy rice that you had. Add some herbs and turn them into croquettes or cutlets. Use them to stuff 'parathas' or make them into 'bondas' or a filling for 'samosa'.

Do not hold yourself from experimenting. New dishes are made when you experiment with the ingredients. For instance, leftover food can be turned into a new dish. Meals do not have to be predictable or boring. Try sanwiches with different fillings, including shredded chicken that you overcooked.

What to do if there is too much oil in what you cooked ?

I honestly believe that oil adds its own unique flavor to the food. Oily dishes taste better than their healthier counterparts. But, since we all know too much oil is bad for health, we don't appreciate it in our food.

If there is too much oil floating in your curry you let it cool and then skid some ice cubes on the top of the dish. The oil should coagulate and stick to the cubes. Remove the cubes, before they begin to melt.

Refrigerating or freezing the dish has a similar effect on the fat and allows you to remove it with a spoon/ladle.

Alternatively, you can dip a slice of bread into the dish and allow it to soak up the extra oil. Do not allow the bread to go deep into the dish; just allow it to skirt on top, where the oil is. Placing a lettuce leaf on the oily dish also works. The oil adheres to the leaf.

You can use anything with absorbent property to remove the fat. For instance, strips of paper (kitchen) towels can be dragged along the surface of the dish so they soak up the floating fat.

Kitchen fixes that I swear by

Here is what I do if there is a problem with the taste or the consistency of the food –



  • Adding a pinch of baking soda, to a dish that has turned out too tart, reduces the acidic taste
  • A spicy dish can be neutralized by adding a sweetener to it, anything, honey, sugar or ketchup
  • Salty food tastes good if you throw in some boiled vegetables in it
  • A watery gravy can be thickened by adding coriander powder to it and giving it a good boil. You can also add stuff that soaks water, something like soy granules or nuggets
  • Thick gravy can be watered down easily, but that can mar the taste. Use alternative liquids that can add a zing to the gravy. Experiment with orange juice, coconut milk or some broth


This isn't an exhaustive list of solutions for cooking disasters, but if you have a problem I'll probably have a solution. So, shoot your queries in the comment box and share your hacks as well.


Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

Follow Juana or read 547 articles authored by Juana

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Comments

Author: Neethu20 Sep 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 2

One more tip for excess salt is adding a ball of Atta (Wheat Flour) into it. It will absorb all the excess salt and after half an hour you can remove that ball from the curry. This can be used if the gravy is very salty. I used it when I once experimented with a curry and it turned out way too salty. This trick saved me.

Since atta can be found in everyone's kitchen it is a quick fix.

Author: neeru bhatt22 Sep 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 3

Very nice article giving so many tricks at one place. I have also had occasions when cooking disasters happened and sometimes I was helpless but sometimes used tricks to save my day. I have used paper napkins or blotting papers for removing extra oil. For overcooked food I have separately cooked some potatoes or supplementary vegetables and added to the spoiled vegetable with additional salt and some spices.

Author: pramilakapahi16 Nov 2017 Member Level: Silver   Points : 2

Interesting article. One thing I do when vegetables become mushy or overcooked is to turn it into bhaji for pav (a type of Indian bread roll). Just blend them and saute them with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Add a spoonful of butter and have it with pavs. Don't forget to add the pav bhaji masala.

Author: Natarajan17 Nov 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

Nice article for people like me who try their hands in the kitchen without supervision when the wife is away for a few days.
For cooking rice, I've been told not to soak it overnight and to add 1-2 spoons of oil when we switch on the stove, it helps to keep the grains in shape.

For food that's more spicy or hot or little excess salty, if they can left as it is for a few hours, generally the intensity comes down. For instance, if the dish is cooked in the afternoon, then we can try it in the evening. Or adding honey would help too. There's nothing to beat the effectiveness of mashed potatoes.

For vegetables that are overcooked, what's helped me is using it while making noodles (without adding the pre-packed spice powder).

Please do not hold to this but these three have helped me in the past.

Author: Juana17 Nov 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 5

Natrajan,

I appreciate you sharing your food salvaging tips with us. Absolutely, wonderful! I respect people who step out of their comfort zone and attempt new things.

1. Rice should not be soaked for more than 30 minutes. And that time period is recommended for rice like basmati. Most rice cooks fine, with a pre-soak of 15-20 minutes
2. For the grains to cook to perfection the ratio of rice and water should be 1:2. A cup of rice would need 2 cups of water for the grains to be light and fluffy. Some people like their rice to be mushy
3. I use oil while boiling pasta and noodles etc. It prevents them from sticking.
4. Adding mushy veggies would definitely boost the nutrition quotient of instant noodles. Good tip. It can be made into a practice.

Author: Juana05 Feb 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 5

That is a good tip Neethu,

Recently, I made lamb curry and flavoured it with salt from a new packet, resulting in the curry becoming overly salty.

I salvaged the dish by adding shallots (small onions used in Sambhar). I had around 200 grams of them and I peeled and dropped the shallots whole, into the gravy. I removed the meat from the gravy since it was already tender. I cooked the shallots in the pressure cooker, until one whistle. Then promptly placed the cooker under running water to decrease the pressure.

This was important as shallots cook very quickly. I wanted them to retain their crunch and shape. I added the lamb pieces to the gravy, before serving it.

The shallots absorbed the excess salt and lent a sweet taste to the gravy. Even though I used a hack, no one knew it was one - the dish was appreciated.

Author: Venkiteswaran14 Apr 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

I read this article today. The tips given are to be handy and essential in the kitchen.

Even if experienced in cooking, there may be some very rare occasions when things get out of hand due to some reason, at the most unexpected time. On need not become panicky if he/she keeps remembering a few tips like the few given in this article.

In my home I am the person for 'repairing' and my wife approaches me with pleadings once in a while to 'correct' the recipe or cooking. Till this day I have been able to fix the problems. Luck apart, I know certain practical handy tips like this which I learned from my maternal grandmother.

One such is how to 'fix' if rice gets overcooked: Answer- rub a little salt on the inside of the lid(facing the cooked rice) and keep it like that for some time. Let the cooled steam drop down on the cooked rice. It will be better and tasty too. This will not work if it has become fully mushy and pasty. Adding a little salt before cooking can prevent overcooking.

Adding a little jaggery can 'fix' excess salt, sour or bitter taste.

Adding 'besan' batter and boiling can make thin gravy thick.

Author: Juana02 Jul 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 2

1. Adding garam masala to a dish that is excessively salty can balance it to a certain extent and make it more flavourful.
2. The same is true for cumin or jeera powder. A small sprinkling of it not only enhances the taste of a dish but also cuts down the salty taste.
3. Salty meat dishes can be salvaged by adding greens to them. Palak (spinach) and methi (fenugreek) improve the health quotient of the dish while reducing the excess salt. Simply add some chopped leaves and cook the dish for a few minutes.



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