Common Cooking Mistakes, Explained—Plus, How to Fix Them
We've all been there, forgotten an ingredient, made a dish too salty, or had a sauce that just isn't right. Part of cooking is trial and error: mistakes will happen. Even professional chefs make them, but we know how to fix them. Here are tricks from our test kitchen to help remedy common kitchen mishaps.
We love salt; it will bring the flavors of a dish into focus but sometimes there is too much and it goes over the edge. With soups and sauces, there is a fix. For slight over salting, add more of other ingredients in the recipe to offset the salt, such as more unsalted broth or water. If the soup is very salty, it might be wise to start over. Pro tip: Be cautious with store-bought broths. Look for no sodium or low sodium versions so you control how much salt is in the soup.
Despite following recipe times, your meat is undercooked. The only solution is to return the meat to the oven, grill, or the sauté pan and keep cooking it. If everyone is already waiting at the table, cut the meat into smaller pieces to speed things up. Pro Tip: Use an instant read thermometer, especially for larger pieces of meat when it's more difficult to decipher when they are cooked. Refer to our Meat Temperature Chart for recommended cooking times.
Slice Into Meat and Too Much Juice Comes Out
We've all been there: You cut one slice from a piece of meat and juices flood the cutting board or plate. If the juices are clear, stop cutting and let the meat sit for about 15 minutes. This is called resting, seals all the tasty juices back into the meat. If the juices are pink or red, the meat is most likely undercooked, see above for undercooked meat.
When searing vegetables or meat, or caramelizing onions, the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan turn into acrid black bits. As soon as you notice this happening, you should stop cooking and remove the unburned food from the top, transferring it into a clean pan. Add a little extra oil, if needed, and proceed cooking in the clean pot. Pro tip: Be proactive, if the brown bits on the bottom of the pan are nearing burnt, add a few tablespoons of water and scrape up the bits before they burn. Didn't catch it in time? Consult our cleaning guide for burned pots and pans.
Lumpy Sauce or Gravy
No one wants a gravy or sauce that's lumpy, not smooth. To remedy the problem, put the pan over moderate heat, then whisk the sauce to see if it comes together. If this doesn't work, set a fine sieve over a heatproof bowl and strain the sauce. Discard the bits that get stuck in the sieve and proceed.
Sauce Is Too Thick or Too Thin
What should you do if you sauce is not the right consistency? In the event that it's too thin, remove about 1/4 cup of the sauce to a heatproof bowl and whisk in two to three teaspoons cornstarch (exact amounts of cornstarch and of sauce to remove depend on the total amount of sauce). Pour back into the pot and boil the sauce to activate the thickening power of the cornstarch. If it's too thick, dilute the sauce with more unsalted broth or water and heat the sauce through.
Cheese Didn't Brown
A cheesy casserole or baked dish is finished, but the cheese is just melted, not bubbling and doesn't have any golden spots. To get a perfectly browned top, first make sure the baking dish is broiler-safe, then place under the broiler for just a minute or two, until the cheese is bubbly and golden. Pro tip: Always keep an eye on food when broiling, broilers vary in strength and food can go from golden to burnt in just a matter of seconds.
Forgot an Ingredient
Forgot to add the garlic, toast the spices, or wilt the greens? Whatever it is, it probably isn't too late. Grab an extra skillet and sauté the forgotten ingredients, adding them in when they are cooked. Toast spices on the side and stir them in. Pro tip: To avoid such issues, get your mise en place in order. All the chopping and measuring should happen before starting to cook so everything is ready to go. Did you forget to buy an ingredient entirely? Check out our cooking substitution guide.