How to Fix Over-Spiced Food

From mangoes to mashed potatoes, here are a chef's tips to save that dish.

We've all accidentally over-seasoned a dish before, especially when it comes to salt. What was meant to be a casual sprinkle into the pan turns into a regrettable hailstorm of crystals and a potentially unbearable meal. So much more are the woes to those who over-spice their food.

It's debatable, the greater of two evils: Soup so salty it's like drinking the ocean? Or a dish so spicy it's like you've touched a torch to your tongue? Luckily, there are remedies for both, and Shaun Abbott, executive chef of the Marina Café in Destin, Florida, shares some easy principles for rectifying a spicy mistake.

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How to Fix Over-Spiced Food

There are two basic tenants when trying to pare down the spiciness of your dish. You can either coat your palate to mask the spice, or cleanse it. Chef Abbott will lean towards cleansing rather than masking, but do whichever is in your ability and availability.

Add Liquid

If you're making a soup or other liquid-heavy recipe like stews and curries, Chef Abbott says that you can add additional liquid. This can include broth, water, dairy, or other ingredients like coconut milk. However, taste as you go and add a little bit at a time. You'll also want to make sure you have enough of your other ingredients to keep a good ratio between the liquid and other foods, like meat, vegetables, and noodles.

Add Acid

"Acid helps to clean the palate and cut back on seasoning," Chef Abbott says. "When I'm preparing dinners and meals and serving something spicy, I'll offer something acidic as an intermezzo."

What types of acid will work? Citric acid is a great pick, as well as vinegar. Don't limit yourself to lemons. You may find that you have one of the chef's other suggestions in your fridge or fruit bowl too.

"Any citrus will work," he shares. "Another great one is mango. I serve a mango sorbet or do an orange sorbet in between meals. If it's an actual dish itself, I would do lemon or vinegar."

Chef Abbott recommends avoiding white distilled vinegar and instead going for something like sherry, which complements any protein and has a sweeter, more aromatic flavor that adds brightness to your dish. Seafood will also pair well with red wine vinegar or cider vinegar.

You should not, however, simply add vinegar to your pan. Instead, make a glaze or sauce.

"Add vinegar to the pan, heat it up, and add brown sugar or white sugar, depending on the flavor you desire," Chef Abbott advises. "You could add butter and glaze whatever protein it is."

Serve With a Simpler Side Dish

No citrus, citric-acid foods, nor vinegar in your fridge and pantry? Fear not—there's still a solution. Serve your over-spiced main dish with a simpler side. Though it will not cleanse the palate, it will mask the spiciness.

Dishes that will do the job? Mashed potatoes, rice, and plain pasta are all things that will coat your taste buds, leaving them less vulnerable to a spicy assault.

Above all, don't panic. You might think it's going to be a disaster, but who knows? Your dinner guests may love it.

"Even if the dish isn't what you're looking for, the people might love it," Chef Abbott says. "Own it. It might be the greatest thing they ever ate."

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