We know it as salt, sodium chloride, sodium, and NaCl. By any name, pepper’s best buddy is not an herb or a spice but an essential mineral and one of our favorite food seasonings.
Salt acts on food molecules to enhance their essence and make them taste and smell better. Without it, favorite recipes like dill pickles and brined turkey wouldn’t be the same!
We need sodium for survival. It’s a vital nutrient that helps maintain blood, nerves, muscles, and fluid levels. However, too much can be detrimental to good health.
Regular table salt comes in plain and iodized versions. Iodized salt was introduced to the United States in 1924 to help rid the population of goiter, a thyroid condition common at the time.
Today we cook with many salt varieties, including sea, rock, kosher, and Himalayan. They differ in flavor, price, sodium content, texture, and usage, but each imparts that secret something that makes foods sing – unless we overdo it.
Imagine a rich stew simmering and filling the house with its delicious aroma.
Dip a spoon into the glistening broth and taste. Just a pinch more salt will do the trick. Grab the shaker to add a dash, and – oops! The lid pops off, and with it comes an overly generous pour.
After tossing the shaker into the trash with a few choice words, what should you do after you made this major cooking mistake?
Read on for five quick fixes for moderately oversalted stews, soups, and sauces.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
5 Ways to Fix Oversalted Food
Let’s get this problem solved!
1. Immediately Scoop It Out
The natural reaction to overseasoning stews, soups, and sauces with salt is to get it out – fast!
If the salt spilled in a large pile on top of what you are making and hasn’t had a chance to dissolve, you may undo the majority of the damage with this quick fix.
With a large spoon or ladle, gently scoop out the contents in the area where you spilled the salt and dispose of your mistake.
As long as you react as swiftly as possible, you may be able to solve the problem immediately. But if you still have a pot full of food that tastes like the briny beach, the following four methods may help.
2. Dilute and Diffuse
After you’ve attempted to siphon off the salt before it dissolves, your next option is to water down your recipe to diffuse the heavy seasoning to a palatable level. Try the following:
- Unsalted beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
Adding more liquid dilutes what is already in a dish, rendering the overall flavor less saline.
You’ll need a thickener if the additional fluid over-thins the consistency.
Try dissolving one tablespoon of cornstarch in one to one and a half tablespoons of cold water, and add it slowly to your simmering pot. Repeat until you achieve the desired consistency.
3. Add to Counteract
Another fix is to add an ingredient that will mask your blunder. A sweet, creamy, savory, or acidic addition may improve the taste of your over-seasoned dish.
Note: Avoid most bottled fruit and vegetable juices, as they usually contain a noticeable amount of sodium.
Give one of the following a try:
- Citrus juice – a sour variety, like lemon or lime
- Fresh herbs – savory aromatics like basil or rosemary
- Full-fat canned coconut milk – useful for non-dairy recipes
- Milk, half-and-half, or cream
- Sour cream or yogurt
- Sugar – brown or white
- Vinegar – particularly balsamic for beef-based dishes
- Wine – a mildly sweet or off-dry variety
Experiment by adding these in small increments, and tasting as you go until you subdue the briny flavor.
If these fixes don’t do the job, there’s another idea you can try. Read on!
Back in the day at my house, the conventional wisdom was to grab a potato, peel it, and plunk it into the stew pot when Grandma got heavy-handed with the seasoning.
The idea was that it would absorb the excess salt as it simmered in the gravy. We took it out before it got soft enough to fall apart. Of course, Grandma always ate it later – Grandpa was on a low-sodium diet!
An absorbent starch like rice, pasta, or other grains may absorb excess sodium in your soup, stew, or sauce for a less briny taste overall. The added bulk also soaks up liquid, so add broth or water as needed.
If you are rescuing a sauce or broth, you may be able to strain and discard the added starch. It’s more challenging with stews and soups, as the rice or pasta becomes part of the dish.
5. Serve with Something Mild
For a dish that is not utterly ruined by an overabundance of sodium but nevertheless quite salty, try presenting it in a way that minimizes the impact on the palate.
Serve small portions with mild and unseasoned side dishes like baked potatoes, bread, steamed rice, steamed vegetables, or pasta, and avoid offering salted butter or cheese, which tends to be high in sodium.
Finish the meal with a refreshing sorbet or ice cream for dessert.
Waste Not, Want Not
Salvaging a dish is a relief, because you don’t have to start over again or throw money down the drain.
Remember these handy tips, and the next time you overdo it with the salt shaker, you’ll have some repair methods to try that may save the day!
What techniques have you tried to salvage an excessively seasoned soup or stew? We enjoy hearing from you! Please share your handy kitchen tips for remedying seasoning mistakes in the comments below.
If you found this quick-fix article helpful, we recommend the following from our collection of educational guides that will help you solve common kitchen problems:
- 9 Quick Tips to Say Goodbye to Flat Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Broken Homemade Mayo? Here are Two Quick Fixes for Creamy Perfection!
- The Soggy Muffin Bottom Blues (And How to Fix Them!)
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Originally published September 23rd, 2016. Last updated on November 28, 2023.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.