How to Fix Common Cooking Mishaps


It’s 6 p.m., you’ve got a group of friends arriving in an hour for dinner, and you accidentally dump the whole shaker of salt into your boiling pot. Should you ditch the meal and call for takeout?

Executive Chef Megan Palmer Rivera of Palmer’s Market and Catering in Darien explains, “A lot of kitchen mishaps require starting over from scratch, but some common mistakes can be minimized so that you can salvage the meal.” Below, Chef Megan helped us identify several cooking mishaps and how to fix them.

Problem 1: You scorch the bottom of your saucepan.

Solution: Contrary to popular belief, don’t scrape up the burnt part of the pan with a spoon! Spoon or pour out the food on top that isn’t burnt, and transfer it into a new pan. Add some oil if necessary, and continue cooking as before.

Problem 2: You added too much salt to the pot.

Solution: Adding an acidic element like a dash of lemon juice will take the edge off of the saltiness. If this happens with a tomato-based sauce, for example, add more of the same sauce or some water to dilute the mixture. Don’t use chicken stock in this case because it’s often pre-salted.

Problem 3: Your sauce or gravy came out too runny.

Solution: Mix equal parts cornstarch and cold water, then add into your boiling sauce to thicken it. Or mix equal parts softened butter and flour together and whisk into the boiling sauce, then cook for a few minutes. It’s always best to start with a small amount of the thickener, then add more as needed.

Problem 4: Your bread went stale before you had a chance to enjoy it.

Solution: Slice or cube the bread, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and some herbs and bake on 375 for 5-15 minutes or so to make great crostini or croutons. Top with hummus, chopped tomatoes and basil, or any tapenade for a delicious hors d’eouvre.

Problem 5: You overcooked the meat.

Solution: Slice the meat and put sauce or gravy on top to add some moisture. With something like a flank steak, be sure and slice it thinly before adding the sauce.


Problem 6: Your chicken or pork chops won’t brown in the pan.

Solution: Free up some space in the pan by taking a few pieces of the meat out, bring it back up to temperature and try again. Sometimes if you overcrowd a hot pan, the oil doesn’t stay hot, heat can’t circulate well, and the meat doesn’t brown.

Problem 7: Your rice or pasta comes out sticky.

Solution: You likely overcooked it. Try adding a small amount of olive oil, and fluff apart with a fork.

Problem 8: You can’t get a clean peel with your hard-boiled egg.

Solution: You likely over-boiled it. Try placing the egg in cold water for a few minutes, then resume peeling. If this doesn’t work, you have to start over. Try this method: Set eggs in cold water. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, then plunge the eggs into a bath of ice water until they are cold. Next, peel the eggs under running water. Interestingly, fresh eggs aren’t the best when hard-boiling. Older eggs actually have more air inside which helps loosen the egg from its shell. How to tell if yours is fresh or not? Put eggs in a bowl of water, and the older ones will tip up toward the top. The fresh ones will sink.

Problem 9: You over baked your cake.

Solution: Make a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water), bring to boil on stove, then let it cool. Slice the cake into layers, dip a pastry brush into the simple syrup and baste the cake layers all over to moisten.

Problem 10: You went a little too crazy with the spices.

Solution: Adding a little sugar or lemon juice to your dish will cut the spiciness. If it’s a sauce you’ve overspiced, try adding sour cream or heavy cream to cut the spice.


Problem 11: Your grill flames up while cooking.

Solution: Simply move the food over to the non-scorched part of the grill. With the grill still on, close the lid and any vents. This lack of oxygen inside the grill will extinguish the fire, and you can keep cooking.

Problem 12: Your lettuce and veggies went limp.

Solution: Plunge wilted produce into a bucket of ice water, and let them sit for a few minutes, then drain. This will rehydrate food and make it look crisp and fresh again.

Problem 13: Your frosted cake looks like a preschooler iced it.

Solution: Don’t fret that your dessert doesn’t look like a Martha Stewart creation. Grab some sprinkles, chopped nuts or coconut shavings and gently pat one of these toppings all over the cake. They will stick to the frosting and hide any design flaws.

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