Were you a little heavy-handed with the hot sauce? Here's what to do.
Shrimp and Chicken Gumbo
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani

Southerners love spicy food, but that doesn't mean tears streaming down our faces and mouths on fire. Unless you're eating hot chicken. In every other case, spicy ingredients should enhance the overall flavors of a dish, not send you running for water.

But if you put too much hot sauce in the seafood gumbo or added too many chiles to the chili pot, fear not. All of your hard work (and precious ingredients) may not have to go to waste. Depending on the dish, there are a few things you can do to make it less spicy.

Serve with a starch

The easiest way to tone down a spicy dish is to serve a smaller portion with plenty of rice, bread, potatoes, pasta, or any other plain starch to counter the heat. This works especially well for soups and stews.

Add some dairy

While we'd never recommend serving a bowl of gumbo with a dollop of sour cream, it's a great way to tone down the spiciness of other dishes, like black bean soup, chili, or tacos. Adding a little heavy cream, plain yogurt, buttermilk, or milk to a dish, when appropriate (again, not in your gumbo), will serve the same purpose and add creaminess. Coconut milk works in the same way too.

Or sugar

A pinch of sugar (or touch of molasses, maple syrup, or honey) can make a dish taste less spicy, particularly when the flavors are very concentrated, like in a marinade, sauce, or stir-fry. Start with a small amount of sugar, taste as you go, and balance out with salt if needed—overly sweet is almost as bad as overly spicy!

Or acid

A squeeze of lemon or lime juice or a little vinegar can help cut through spiciness. This is especially good trick for spicy seafood dishes or creamy soups and chowders.