Salt can save a recipe from tasting bland, but accidentally overdoing it means a dish can become really unpleasant to the palate, or even inedible. Unlike most other flavorings, salt won’t fade with extended cooking; if anything, it becomes more prominent as other flavors fade. You can’t extract salt from a cooked dish if you’ve used too much, but there are a couple of ways to reduce its impact.
“Too much” salt is never a hard and fast quantity—it’s just a question of whether you’ve used more than you should for the amount of food you’re preparing. So, the simplest way to fix things is to increase the rest of your recipe. As the batch gets bigger, the amount of salt becomes proportionally smaller, until the flavors eventually balance again.
- If you’re making soup, stew, or a casserole, add unsalted broth or water until the salt is back to a suitable level.
- If you’re making pasta sauce, add more tomatoes or cream.
It’s not always practical to increase the size of your batch, though. You might not have the ingredients or enough time to still get dinner on the table. In those cases, you can still apply the same principle by removing some of the over-salted food. Ladle out some of the broth or sauce and replace it with an equal quantity of unsalted broth, water, cream, cooked beans or whatever ingredient is appropriate to the dish. It’s a less drastic and more practical version of the same fix.
The only way to really reduce salt is by dilution, but you could also mask it with competing flavors. Adding sweetness, tart acidity, or heat can sometimes save the day. This won’t reduce the actual sodium level, but at least makes it more palatable.
One widely circulated piece of advice is to cut up a raw potato and add it to the dish to absorb excess salt. Unfortunately, no matter how many of your friends swear by this tip, it simply doesn’t work. Science-minded food writers have tested and debunked the technique. For example, former chemistry professor Robert Wolke addressed it in his book What Einstein Told His Cook. Yes, the potato absorbs salt, but it absorbs water along with it and leaves their relative proportions unchanged.