6 Quick Fixes for Kitchen Emergencies
Got raw steak or burnt rice in need of a recipe rescue? These hacks put you back on track so you can fix your food instead of tossing it out.
Kitchen emergency photographs by Brittany Conerly
Darn! It’s happened to all of us: dough that cracks, steak that’s raw, pots of rice that scorch on the bottom. But not all is lost. With a little quick thinking, you can oftentimes fix the emergency and feed your family, not the trash can.
The first step? Stay calm. Step away from cooking for a little bit — wash some dishes, go through the mail — so you don’t get frustrated. Then put our fixes to work.
And the last step? Usually people can’t tell something went amiss unless you tell them. Why not keep mum? Your secret’s safe with us.
Jump ahead to:
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1. Food burned on the bottom of a pan
The Fix: First, get the pan or pot off the heat. Second, don’t stir it (you may scrape burned food from the bottom and ruin the whole batch). Third, taste the top, unburned part. Does it still taste okay? If so, dump it out into another pot and finish cooking it. Fill the burned pot or pan with warm, soapy water and give it a good soak, which will help dislodge the carbon at the bottom.
Tired of your Instant Pot burn warnings? Layering ingredients is the solution! In this recipe, chunky ingredients like tomatoes and beans go on top of the other ingredients.
2. Cookies spread too much in the oven
The fix: The problem could be a couple things. Your dough may need to chill. Try refrigerating it 1 hour to see if it firms up. Another possibility? Putting cookie dough on a hot baking sheet straight from the oven can make the butter melt out, giving you formless cookies. Cool the sheet to room temperature before loading it again (or in winter, set the sheet outside). The third option might be your cookies don’t have enough flour. If the dough is sticky and isn’t supposed to be, try working in a little more flour.
This easy-peasy recipe has you freeze the cookies on the sheets before baking.
3. Pie dough is too sticky or dry to roll out
The fix: If the dough is too soft and greasy to roll, pop it in the freezer 5-10 minutes so it can firm up. If it’s pasty and sticky, you added too much water — dust generously with flour. If it’s cracking, it needs more water: Flick the dough with droplets of cold water before sprinkling with a light dusting of flour.
Whether sticky or dry, problem pastry is improved when you roll it out between floured sheets of plastic wrap. This lets you use the bottom layer of wrap as a lifter so you can invert it onto the pie plate, then peel off the top layer. Brush off excess flour before baking.
Here’s an utterly forgiving pie dough for newbies. Using sour cream instead of water yields a soft dough that’s hard to overwork.
4. Food is too salty
The fix: With a sauce or soup, add more of the primary ingredient (tomatoes for tomato soup, beans or unsalted stock for bean soup). If that’s not an option, try this old trick: add a quartered raw potato, simmer it, then discard the potato, which will absorb excess salt.
If you oversalted meat or sauteed veggies, rinse them off, pat dry, and re-season with a lighter hand before cooking quickly.
Oversalting can happen when you dump salt in all at once. This next recipe seasons components as you cook them, so it’s easier to adjust the seasoning when the dish is nearly finished.
5. Sauce or soup is too thin
The fix: If your sauce sauce is thin, try simmering it until it has more body. Or make a slurry of 1 tablespoon cold water mixed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Drizzle a little of this into the simmering sauce (it has to boil for the cornstarch to thicken), and stir until thickened. Add more of the slurry, if needed.
You can try this same approach with a soup that’s too thin. Or, for a brothy soup, simply ladle out some stock until you have the desired ratio of chunky stuff to broth. (Save the stock for other uses.) If it’s a pureed soup, add any of the following to thicken it: leftover mashed potatoes, leftover cooked rice, a slice of bread with the crusts removed, or drained canned beans. Then puree again, and don’t forget to recheck the seasoning (you may need more salt and pepper).
Getting the proportions of roux, liquid, and vegetables right is key to having a pureed, flour-thickened soup with the perfect consistency. Try our trusty broccoli cheese soup.
6. Steak is overdone on the outside, raw inside
The fix: When your steak’s crusty char can’t handle more searing but the inside is still raw, what can you do? Slice it thinly and stir-fry it briefly in a skillet, adding a little water if needed, until the meat is cooked to your liking.
No more burned outside, raw inside steak disasters! In this next recipe, the technique of searing steak on the stove and finishing it in the oven ensures the exterior doesn’t risk burning as the interior cooks to your preferred doneness.
Try more handy cooking tips and hacks
From common tools used in new ways to faster techniques for daily cooking tasks, this next set of pro tips will solve your kitchen conundrums.