I Made It But I Hate It... Now What?

Three tips to save kitchen flops from the trash.

For anyone who considers themselves to be a culinary adventurer, you've likely been in the following situation: you see a new recipe, get inspired, assemble all the ingredients, follow it step-by-step, and… it turns out terrible. Or you decide you have a brilliant idea for a new concept, you don’t even look for a recipe because you know your idea is brilliant, you collect what you deem to be the magical mix, and… it sucks!

Sometimes you can plug your nose, bite your lip, and force it down, but more often than not, these culinary failures end up in the trash. If you’re familiar with the mission of our group, Ugly Food of the North, you know we hate the idea of food ending up in the garbage - even if it’s less than pleasing for the pallet.  

Here are a few common recipe failures and ideas to bring a losing dish back on the winning side.

Overcooked Meat – When meat gets overcooked and tough, it is no treat. What does it need to be brought back to life? Moisture + fat. You’ll never get the original desired product, but with the right ratio of moisture and fat added back to the protein, you can still create something that’s quite tasty.

Check out these ideas on salvaging overcooked meat:

  • Chicken – Add to a curry sauce made with cream or coconut milk (full-fat) or make chicken salad sandwiches.

  • Pork – Grind it in a food processor with meat stock and pork lard (fat) until it creates a smooth meat spread. This can be used as a dip for crackers or a sandwich spread (think paté).

  • Beef – This one is a little tricky. Depending on the cut, you can thinly slice it (against the grain) and add some steak sauce for a steak sandwich. Or you can slice it and fry it until it has a jerky like quality. Let this cool on paper towels and finely chopped for salads (think bacon bits but with beef).   

Too Salty – Salt is a magical ingredient. The right amount can transform a dish from “meh” to “yay!” But, when you go too far, it’s definitely less than appreciated.

Here are a few ideas for masking overly-salted foods:

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  • Add a little water: Soups and stews are quite forgiving to over-salting because you have the opportunity to add water without totally altering the end product. However, water will likely dull the other flavors so taste as you go (about ½ cup at a time) and see what other flavors you need to keep the dish balanced.

  • Acid: Acids, things like lemon juice and vinegars, mask flavor. Add a little lemon juice or a mild vinegar (white wine) can help to subdue overly salty flavor. But remember to not go overboard - too sour is no more welcoming than too salty.

  • Bring on the Spuds: Potatoes absorb salt so adding a diced potato to a liquid dish can remove some of the salt. It also adds starch which masks salt flavor.

  • Prevention is Key – It is much easier to add additional salt then remove it. Tasting and adding salt throughout the cooking process, and/or properly measuring for non-stovetop dishes is a simple way to prevent over-salting.

Too Bland – This one is a pretty easy fix. For most recipes, this gives you an opportunity to see what spices the dish called for, add more of them and taste. Also, salt and pepper help to draw out particular flavors of a dish, so add a little, taste, and adjust accordingly.

If you’re a fan of spice, hot sauce is a great tool for a recipe that tastes rather blasé. The American palate is changing and becoming more comfortable and accustomed to a little kick. From sandwich shops to pizza parlors, hot spices and sauces are available at many restaurants - and likewise, should be a staple in any kitchen. Adding a little hot sauce to a recipe can (literally!) help spice up almost any recipe - but it’s important to remember not to use this as a culinary crutch. Overusing these strong flavors to mask poor cooking is not the answer, but on occasion, they are a great recipe-failure savior!

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Hopefully these tips help you to overcome, troubleshoot, or maybe prevent a future culinary misstep. However, screw-ups are part of the adventure of cooking. And there’s nothing more satisfying than using your culinary skills and knowledge to save food and make it delicious.

If you have a favorite recipe-rescue story, we would love to hear about it! Please share on social and join the conversation about food waste using #FMUglyFood.

Good luck to our fellow culinary adventurers! Bon Voyage and Bon Appetite!