[Image via RoboPencil]
Everyone makes mistakes in the kitchen. Kim Kardashian got engaged in the kitchen and Justin Bieber fathered a baby in the kitchen. Look: it happens.
Some people freak out when a mistake happens: “Oh my God! This is a disaster! I’ll never cook again!” Other people employ a series of tactics to recover from their mistake. That’s what this post is about; here are 10 Ways To Fix A Mistake in the Kitchen.
1. If you oversalt something, add more of the something. On last night’s “Top Chef,” one of the chefs said her grits were too salty, so she poured out half the grits and added more milk. Similarly, if you’re making a sauce, a salad dressing, or even scrambled eggs, you can recover if you’ve oversalted things. In the case of a sauce, you can add more butter or more cream or something acidic (like lemon juice) to cut the salinity. In the case of a salad dressing, you can always add more oil and vinegar and just double the amount of dressing (save it for later). In the case of scrambled eggs, if they taste too salty, put them back in the pan and add 3 more eggs and cook them quickly, stirring fast. It’s not the ideal way to cook scrambled eggs but it’s a good way to save them if they’re inedible.
2. If you forget to buy an ingredient, use a comparable substitute. Nothing defines the amateur cook more than his or her tendency to quit a recipe if one ingredient is missing. (Believe me: I was that amateur cook.) But, as Julia Child famously said (I’m paraphrasing), “anyone who doesn’t make a recipe because they’re missing an ingredient will never be a chef.” Ingredients are there to perform a specific function. For example, shallots work in a vinaigrette to give a subtle, oniony accent. If you don’t have shallots, you could use a clove of garlic or a red onion or scallions. You’d wind up with a totally legitimate vinaigrette with a unique spin. Same goes for almost any recipe: if you’re baking gingerbread and forgot to buy ground cloves, try Allspice. If a recipe calls for you to deglaze a pan with white wine, you can use Vermouth. And so on.
3. If something doesn’t cook properly, cut off the part that didn’t cook properly. Once I made a milk-braised pork for famed food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier (see here). While most of the pork was submerged in a garlicky, lemony milk mixture, some of it wasn’t. And when I took it out to slice it, the part that wasn’t was totally raw. The younger me would’ve panicked in that situation, but the older me–with my years of experience–simply sliced off the raw portion and didn’t say a word. Same thing goes for where something burns; you don’t have to throw it away. Just remove the burnt part.
4. Patch Things Together If No One Will See Them. I’m famously bad at making pie dough and in one specific instance, documented here, the dough that I rolled out for a rhubarb pie tore up into scrappy pieces. What I realized, though, is that if I just pressed those pieces into the pie plate and covered them with fruit (as you do with a pie) no one would know the difference. And sure enough, the pie turned out great and no one was the wiser.
5. If you add the wrong ingredient, make that ingredient work. Let’s say you’re making a soup and you add 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead of 1 teaspoon paprika. That’s a big deal, it takes your soup in a totally different direction. So embrace that direction! If it’s a tomato soup, it’s now a spicy tomato soup. To counteract the heat, add a dollop of cooling sour cream at the end. Or serve it up with corn bread as a sweet foil. Many a great dish was discovered by mistake.
6. If you need help, ask for help. The other day when I was making that elaborate lasagna, I noticed, as I was putting the pasta through the pasta machine, that it was folding in on itself and sticking together. It was impossible to feed the pasta through the one end, crank with the other hand and catch it as it came out. And so I called upon Craig to be my pasta-catching arms for a few minutes. There’s no shame in asking for help in the kitchen; often times it means the difference between a disaster and a triumph.
7. Salt is your savior. Sometimes you make a dish–you spend a few hours on it–and, at the very end, you taste it and your reaction is “meh.” There’s a very simple way to transform that dish from “meh” to “my my my”: add salt. It seems obvious to anyone who cooks often, but for beginners, it’s usually something that they overlook. I remember in my early days of cooking, finishing a dish that I cooked precisely according to the recipe, tasting it and giving up, defeated. If only I’d added a little salt at the end, that dish might’ve gone from drab to fab. Give it a try.
8.Google it. If you really get stuck in the kitchen, try Googling your problem. Often times, others have encountered the same issue and you’ll find blog posts or chat board conversations on that very topic. As an experiment, I just Googled “the grits are too salty” and found this conversation on Yahoo Answers about how to fix it.
9. Throw it away and start again. When something really goes wrong, chances are you still have enough of the ingredients that you bought to make it the first time to give it another go. You may have to sacrifice something–like a chili with bacon and you used up all the bacon the first time around–but if you’re clever enough, you can use what you learned the first time to make the 2nd version a winner.
10. When all else fails, order a pizza. This applies when you’re having company over and something goes drastically wrong. There’s no reason to cancel a dinner party just because your entree is an unmitigated disaster. People still want to see you, they still want to eat your appetizer, your dessert, to drink wine with you and laugh about how much you screwed up that Duck a l’Orange. If you have a good attitude about it, no crisis is too big to ruin dinner.