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15 Cooking problems salt can cure right away

Chris Perrin is part mad scientist, part glutton, and part culinary adventurer who is always ready to hit the kitchen to make something delicious. Cooking, especially for friends, has always been one of his deepest passions and explains ...

All the ways salt can save your cooking and cover up your food mistakes

Cooking mishaps are a common occurrence, no matter how often you cook. Even the best recipes, the most time-honored dishes and the steadiest hand on the oven can sometimes mess up. The good news is that a little extra salt can cure most cooking ills.

Did you know you have a miracle ingredient in your pantry? Yes, even if you never, ever cook, you probably still have this one thing lurking somewhere in your kitchen (or darn close to it). What is it? It's salt. That's right. Salt can fix just about every cooking problem you're likely to face, no matter the dish, no matter your cooking talents.

1. Limp vegetables

Yes, the best way to eat vegetables is at their peak, still bursting with all their vitamins and flavor. Of course, sometimes you still have to cook your vegetables, and when you find they're a little flat, add some salt. A little pinch can excite taste buds and take plain, frozen vegetables or crisper leftovers that may be a little past their prime and make them exceptional.

2. Watery soup

Watery soup is an interesting problem. If it's the wateriness you're worried about, then try a little cornstarch slurry. However, if it's the lack of flavor that concerns you, turn to salt. Even regular salt can add a nice kick to the soup's flavor, but if you can, go with sea salt to give your soup an extra hint of brine.

3. Stale-tasting bread

If you find your home-baked bread tastes stale, add an extra eighth or quarter of a teaspoon of salt. On the other hand, if you're stuck with a loaf that just can't measure up, then try adding a thin layer of butter or low-fat cream cheese and a sprinkle of smoked salt. You'll be amazed at how good it can taste.

4. Flavorless pasta

A contestant on Iron Chef once said he found that to make perfect pasta, the cooking water had to have the same brininess as the Mediterranean Sea. While we can't tell you exactly what that tastes like, we can tell you that you pretty much have to salt your pasta water to make it taste like anything. Even better, adding salt will help other flavoring agents you put in the boiling water too.

5. Boring caramel

Hard to believe there is such a thing, but like anything else, caramel can need a boost in the taste bud department. That's why salted caramel has become a thing. By itself, caramel is just sticky-sweet. Add salt, and it becomes much more well-rounded and deep.

6. Cheap chocolate

Like caramel, chocolate can get a boost from salt, especially salt with larger crystals. The salt wakes up more taste buds (including, sometimes, a little umami), and the larger crystals give cheaper chocolate a mix-up in the texture department as well.

7. Lousy legumes

Beans need salt. Because most beans are boiled, they end up sort of flavorless, oftentimes watery, usually mushy and generally unappetizing. Once you add a healthy pinch of salt, they shake off some of that wateriness and begin to have a more robust taste.

8. Soggy french fries

Salt can't cure the sogginess in fries. Really, not much can. However, if you add enough salt to the fries, the oil soaks up a little bit of the white stuff, and the fries start to taste much, much better.

9. Flat steak

Yes, even steak can be a little boring without a proper amount of salt. Don't believe it? Try cooking two steaks. Cover one liberally with salt, and the other, leave unsalted. You'll find the salt makes the steak taste more like beef.

10. Tasteless chicken breasts

Let's face it: There's nothing less thrilling than an underseasoned chicken breast that's been cooked plain and thrown onto a plate. That's why, at the very least, you should season your chicken like your steak. However, if you want really dynamite chicken, brine it. Brining means soaking the chicken in salt-water for at least 30 minutes. Just that little extra step makes all the difference in the world.

11. Wretched rice

Ever wonder why rice tastes so good in restaurants? Some of it has to do with the grains, but a lot of it has to do with salt. Rice-cooking water should be very well salted so that the rice comes out flavorful, plump and delicious.

12. Crappy coffee

According to Tom Clancy novels, it's an old trick to put a tiny bit of salt in coffee. This experiment should never be tried with really good coffee, but the next time you have a generic can of grounds you can't figure out what is, add a very tiny pinch of salt, and see if the flavor improves.

13. Burnt food

Ever find yourself with some food that is positively burned and don't know what to do? Try scraping off the burnt part and adding a lot of salt. The food with be so salty, no one will know it was burned.

OK, so it doesn't mean your food will be edible, but most people will not think twice about being heavy-handed with salt, whereas burning food tends to get one made fun of…

14. Child cooking mishaps

We think it's great when our children cook up "diggity dog soup," a concoction of whatever cans they could find in the cupboard and open. It's great right up until we have to eat it, in which case, a little salt can actually do wonders for harvesting some flavor from the strange brew. On the other hand, you can go with the burnt food method above and pour in so much that the soup becomes "too salty to eat."

This method only works once, because next time said children won't add any salt — nor let you add any.

15. Overactive sweet teeth in your diners

Whether for April Fools' or to make a point, if you want to make a cake no one will love, swap the salt and sugar in a dessert recipe. The result is so inedible it will be unforgettable.

More on salt

Brine turkey: The scoop on brining your Thanksgiving bird
In a pickle: How to fix overly salty food
Salt-crusted baked whole fish

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