Strongly flavored ingredients are a double-edged sword for cooks. It takes only a very small quantity to add interest to a dish, but it's easy to add too much to a dish and overpower the flavors of the other ingredients. This is especially common with ingredients such as salt, lemon juice, chili peppers and vinegar. If you're familiar with the ways ingredients interact, however, it is sometimes possible to rescue the dish with a few timely additions.
Neutralize the vinegar chemically by stirring in a pinch at a time of baking soda. Baking soda is a potent base, or alkaline, ingredient and will convert some of the vinegar to carbon dioxide. Taste the food after stirring in each pinch and repeat until the flavors are balanced.
Offset the extra vinegar by adding small pinches of sugar to moderate the acidity. Stir the dish well and taste after each addition to keep from overcompensating.
Add small quantities of salt to balance the acidity. Salty and sour flavors are interpreted by the same area of the brain, and adding one impairs the brain's ability to perceive the other. Salt and sugar can also be combined to increase the effect.
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Prepare a half-batch of the recipe, if possible, with the vinegar left out. Combine with the original batch and taste after stirring them together. The vinegar should no longer be dominant.
Always work carefully when attempting to salvage a dish. Add small quantities of the balancing ingredient and stir well before tasting. If the vinegar is in a sauce, rather than the main dish, strain off the sauce and adjust it separately. That way you're not overcooking the main ingredients while you balance the flavors.
- "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold S. McGee; 2004
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.