Over-salting a dish is a cook's worst nightmare, and it happens to all of us. Here you'll learn how to fix over-salted foods and save face!
In my many years of cooking, I have occasionally been a bit too heavy-handed with the salt shaker, particularly with soups and stews. But there's help and no, it's not adding a raw potato (read on for that discussion.)
Here's what to do when if soup is too salty:
Step 1: Add More Liquid: Dilute
- The first and best alternative to reduce sodium is to dilute it with water. Adding more liquid can minimize the salty flavor of the dish
- Add a low-sodium broth or stock
- Consider the texture. If the texture and thickness are okay after adding more water, then you're good to go! If you find that adding more liquid causes your dish to be too thin, then add a thickening slurry.
Step 2: Create a Slurry: Thicken
Technically, a slurry is a combination of a starch and water that is added to thicken a dish; however, it will also lessen the sodium content to a degree.
Once you've added more liquid, you might find the soup too thin. In this case, you'll want to add a thickening slurry which is generally a 1:1 ratio; equal parts of liquid and starch.
The starch used in the slurry determines the thick/thinness of the dish not because of the type of starch, but due to the temperature.
Types of Slurries and When to Add Them
- A root-based slurry, (arrowroot, tapioca, potato) thickens at a lower temperature--so add it to warm soup. Note: Arrowroot is not recommended to use with dairy-based recipes; it tends to clump and cling, producing an unappetizing soup.
- A cereal-based starch (corn, wheat or flour) thickens at a higher temperature, so turn up the heat when adding this. Use all-purpose flour, not wheat flour.
- Whichever type you use, add it near the end of the cooking time. Prolonged cooking times result in the breakdown of the molecules and then it fails to thicken
For example, you have a Cream of Broccoli Cheese soup that is too salty, but you are pleased with the consistency, texture and color. You added more liquid and now it's too thin so, mix a slurry of water and cornstarch in a measuring cup, turn the heat up, stir it in and serve immediately.
Types of starch for slurries
Typical starches include arrowroot, cornstarch and flour. Arrowroot and cornstarch slurries will produce a transparent thickener where flour will create an opaque thickener.
Think of it this way: the clear, transparent sauce you get on your Lemon Chicken at your favorite Asian restaurant is made with cornstarch. The result is a translucent sauce.
The cream gravy you put on your mashed potatoes is white; thickened with flour, which results in an opaque sauce. Same goes for brown gravy or sauces.
Step 3: Add Sugar
A pinch of sugar may minimize saltiness of a dish, but note that high levels of sugar will prevent thickening.
If this doesn't resolve the salt issue, then you can either lower the heat and add a root based slurry, or bring the heat up and add a cereal based slurry.
Step 4: Add Acid
Adding an acid (vinegar, lemon, wine) to an over-salted dish acts the same way sugar does in that a little may adjust the salt, but too much acid will prevent thickening.
Add acids at the end of the cooking period to avoid coagulation of any dairy products
Can I add a potato to fix over-salted foods?
Many a cook has been advised that adding a peeled, sliced potato to an over-salty soup or stew reduces the salt. However, the potato actually absorbs more water than it reduces salt.
If you add raw potatoes to a high-sodium dish, the result is a big glob of salty mush because the raw potato extracts more liquid than salt.
- Add more liquid; taste; if needed, add a thickening slurry; taste
- If still too salty, add a pinch of sugar; taste
- If still too salty, add a little acid
- At this point, if it tastes right, but is too thin, add another thickening slurry
Flour to cornstarch: 2:1
- Flour has half of the thickening power of cornstarch. So, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of flour, substitute with ½ tablespoon of cornstarch; conversely, cornstarch has double the thickening power of flour so, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, substitute with 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
Cornstarch to tapioca: 1:1
- Use 1 tablespoon of tapioca in lieu of 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
Flour to arrowroot: 3:1
- If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of flour, use 1 teaspoon of arrowroot (there are 3 teaspoons in 1 tablespoon)
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Soup Recipes you might like:
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- Wisconsin Beer Cheese
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- No-Cream "Creamy" White Bean
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How to Fix Over-Salted Soups and Stews
- 2 cups water or low sodium broth/stock
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour for slurry
- ½ cup water for slurry
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon acid vinegar, lemon/lime juice, wine
- Add water, one cup at a time to reduce saltiness; taste; add more water if necessaryIf this reduces the sodium to suit you, serve the soup/stew
- If, after adding water, the flavor is good but it's still too thin, then make a slurry
- In a 2 cup measuring cup, add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or flour and ½ cup of water; combine well
- Add slurry (see recipe notes about the temperature of the soup and when to add the slurry)
- If the soup tastes right and is at the right consistency, serve immediately
- If it's still too salty, add 1 tablespoon of sugar or acid (vinegar, lemon/lime juice, wine)
- First, add water. If this resolves the sodium issue, but thins the soup too much, make a slurry.
- Flour refers to all-purpose flour, not wheat flour (which is not recommended)
- If you use a slurry to thicken your dish, add it near the end of the cooking time. Prolonged cooking times result in the breakdown of the molecules and then, the slurry fails to thicken.
- A root-based slurry, (arrowroot, tapioca, potato), will thicken at a lower temperature--so add the slurry to warm soup near the end of the cooking time if you want to thicken the soup
- Note: Arrowroot is not recommended to use with dairy-based soup; it tends to clump and cling, producing an unappetizing soup.
- If you make a slurry using a cereal-based starch (corn, wheat or flour), add the slurry when the soup is at a higher temperature to thicken the soup ( cereal-based starches thicken at higher temperatures.)