10 Ways to Salvage a Burnt Meal

By Marla Walters on 23 August 2016 0 comments

My husband likes to joke that his mother cooked by the "smoke alarm method." I laugh, but not too hard, because people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I have burned my share of meals — I'm also prone to burn some types of things more than others. It happens, but you may not have to waste food and money if you burn, or overcook, your food. Here are 10 ways to salvage your "Cajun-style" food.

1. Rice

Rice came in first on my list, because to this day, sometimes I get distracted and burn the heck out of it.

What to Do

Quickly (before the smell gets bad), scoop out as much rice as you can and put it in a separate bowl. Fill the pan with water (don't just let it sit) so that it's easy to clean up, later.

Another method is to turn off the heat, put a slice of white bread over the rice, and re-cover for five minutes. This might help to absorb the bad smell, but you may still have a stuck-on layer on the pot bottom. The rice may still be okay for other uses, such as fried rice. You may also be able to use it in meatballs or soup.

How to Prevent It

If you eat a lot of rice, consider purchasing a rice cooker. Alternatively, check your water to rice ratio. I use two cups of water to one cup of rice. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover, and cook for 25 minutes. I cheat and check under the lid once in awhile, to make sure it isn't burning. Turn off the heat at 25 minutes, fluff the rice with a fork, cover, and let it sit for five to seven minutes.

2. Overdone Turkey

Haven't we all been there? The table is set beautifully, and everyone is awaiting the grand entrance of the Thanksgiving turkey. You start carving, and oh, no. It's so dry.

What to Do

Reconsider carving at the table. It makes a mess, anyway. If you carve in the kitchen, you have time to do some rescuing, if need be. Ladle some broth over the turkey pieces; it will soak in. Another tactic is to brush the pieces with a little melted butter. Or, just 'fess up, and tell folks they'll need a lot of gravy. Fortunately, chopped turkey (even if it's dry) will be fine in creamy casseroles, or enchiladas.

How to Prevent It

Before you start cooking your turkey, make sure it's thawed. Also, for beginners, buy the brand with the pop-up button, or use a turkey cooking bag.

3. No-Longer-Rare Roast

There you were, making a nice roast for Sunday dinner, and the phone rang. You forgot about that roast, and now it's toast.

What to Do

Shift gears. You can still probably use some of it. My mother made roast beef hash a lot when I was a kid, and now I suspect I know why. Also, try tossing it, along with veggies, into a stir-fry, or making fried rice.

How to Prevent It

A good meat thermometer is a wonderful thing.

4. Burned Chicken

Visions of a picture-perfect cookout go right out of your head when flames turn the chicken black, right?

What to Do

If it has skin on, remove the skin, and finish baking it in the oven. You may also be able to cut the burned parts off and chop up the meat. Having a salad with the picnic? Toss the remaining meat into that.

How to Prevent It

If you really must keep the skin on (I know, it's so tasty), trim the skin so that it doesn't hang down and catch on fire. Make sure you brush the grill with oil before heating it, so that it doesn't stick and burn. Don't put the sauce on until the chicken is almost done, because any sugars in the sauce may cause the chicken to burn.

5. Chocolate

It's a pretty sickening feeling to burn chocolate while attempting to melt it. I mean come on, it's chocolate. Ouch.

What to Do

First, get it away from the heat. If you have any more chocolate around, chop it, add it, and stir. That will stop it from melting any further. Still lumpy? Try adding a little vegetable oil or shortening to the chocolate and stir it. If it still cannot be saved, just let it cool, chop it up, and toss it into cookies.

How to Prevent It

Rather than melting it on the stove, try short bursts in the microwave. Start at one minute, and stir. Try another 20 seconds, stir, and check. If it still has not melted, give it 15 seconds more and stir. If you own a double boiler, that's also a safer method than just melting on the stovetop.

6. Very Well-Done Vegetables

The veggies were steaming along nicely, and you got a phone call. The water evaporated in the pan. Oops.

What to Do

Scrape out what you can. There is still hope! One idea is to add grated Parmesan and a little cream to the leftover vegetables. This might actually be yummier than the original healthy steamed vegetables. Or, you can puree them with a little butter, and use as a thick sauce. Lastly, puree, add some stock, and call it soup.

How to Prevent It

Set the timer, or turn off the stove if you are distracted.

7. Butter

There you were, just melting butter to make a sauce, and... It went from melted to muddy-brown.

What to Do

Grab a coffee filter and a bowl. Strain the butter through the filter. Now you have delicious, nutty, brown butter. Add some chopped herbs, and pretend you meant to do that. Browned butter makes a great sauce.

How to Prevent It

Use low heat to melt butter, and don't leave the stove. If you get distracted, turn off the burner.

8. Pie Crust

You were feeling like Betty Crocker there, for a while, until you burned your pie crust. All that work, down the drain? Nope.

What to Do

If it's just a little brown, who cares? It looks better than underbaked. However, if it's really obvious, see if you can cut up your pie and put it onto a serving plate minus the outer crust. If it's burned beyond being edible, remove the whole top and make a crumb topping (combine one cup flour, ½ cup butter, and ½ cup brown sugar, mix together, and sprinkle over top). Put it back into the oven at 425 and bake until brown.

How to Prevent It

Next time, wrap foil around the edges of the pie, removing just for the last 15 minutes of baking. Also, bake on the bottom rack of your oven, not the top.

9. Burnt Bacon

It happens quickly. You aren't alone.

What to Do

It's still edible. Let it drain, crumble it up, and sprinkle over salads, soups, or onto scrambled eggs.

How to Prevent It

Try cooking bacon in the oven, which is easy and makes less mess, too. Don't forget to set the timer!

10. Crispy Lasagna

My grandmother always burned the top of her lasagna, so I actually learned to like it that way. But that's probably a unique thing.

What to Do

If the top is black and crunchy, peel back a layer. Add more sauce and cheese, and return to the oven just to brown it up.

How to Prevent It

Before you pop it into the oven, cover it with foil. Halfway through baking, remove the foil.

If it's overdone, don't throw it out! You may be able to save some food and some money.

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