How to Rescue a Burnt Disaster

kale gratin-2

Not long after we moved into our little farm house earlier in the year, I was beginning to question my ability to cook without burning something.

It started one night when I was making a bolognese sauce…

Somehow I got side tracked and forgot I had the pot on the highest setting. The next thing I know my Irishman (whose nose is much more sensitive than mine) was asking ‘Is something burning?’

It was. Not good.

Then to make matters worse, the next morning I was warming up some cavolo nero (black Tuscan kale) to have with our eggs and the same thing happened. Another burnt disaster.

For someone who has a degree in Food Science and writes cookbooks for a living, this was starting to get embarrassing.

But as I was scrubbing my poor burnt pots that morning, I realized there could be one good thing to come out of my kitchen disasters. I was getting a lot of experience in how to rescue burnt food.

A great blog post topic!

So here we are…

6 steps to rescue a burnt kitchen disaster

1. Remove from the heat source.
No explanation needed.

2. Transfer the unburned food to a clean pot / container. ASAP.
The thing I’ve learned is usually the burnt food stays attached to the bottom of the pot so it’s usually easy to separate off the good remaining food.

Just resist the urge to stir and see ‘how bad it is’. You can always add back the bottom layers later if they’re still edible. But the sooner you cut your losses, the more likely you’ll still have something edible at the end.

3. Add water to the burnt pot.
This stops making things worse and helps with cleaning later.

4. Add water to the rescued food, if needed.
Depending on what was burnt and how bad things are, adding back moisture can help. Although in the case of someting like my cavolo nero it isn’t really an option.

5. Taste and season with strong flavours, if needed.
Sometimes the rescued food will taste fine. But if there’s a bit of a lingering burnt flavour, I like to try and camouflage it.

For example with my bolognese sauce I added some more tomato paste and a little smoked paprkia and some butter to ‘smooth’ everything out. It didn’t completely cover the burnt flavours but at least we were able to eat it.

Other good ingredients to reach for are curry pastes (Thai or Indian), curry powder, other spices, chilli in any form. Coconut milk is another option for ‘smoothing’ the rough flavours if butter isn’t your thing.

6. Let it go.
Sometimes these things happen. And the only option is to throw out your disaster. Try and learn from your mistake but there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. I’ve started setting my timer more often and not leaving the kitchen with a pot on full heat which seems to be helping!

With love,
Jules x

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  • sprinkling a thick layer of bicarb of soda straight onto the burnt pot helps lift the burnt offerings quicker than just water

    • Yes Sue!

      Sorry I can’t believe I forgot the veggie variation… Just skip the bacon or replace with chopped smoked tofu or as you suggest a pinch of smoked paprika would be another alternative.

      I’d also consider skipping the bacon and serving sprinkled with roast or smoked nuts for the extra protein & crunch.

  • They say in the US there is a kale shortage because everyone loves this veggie so much this year so I will substitute spinach as I know there is a ton of that in our stores. Thanks also for telling me what double cream was as I had not heard of that before. I’m making butter with the heavy cream but will use some for this recipe.

    I’m guessing 6 rashers is 6 slices chopped? This recipe sounds yummy!

  • I absolutely love your recipes! I don’t have an idea for rescuing food really, but more of an idea for a substitution. You call for fish sauce in a lot of your recipes and I really, really don’t like fish sauce. It is, however, necessary for certain flavors, much like anchovies, a little goes a long way. I use it, but find that I only need ? of the recommended amount for success, especially in such dishes as your wonderful green chicken curry! When it is called for in a recipe using minced beef (or pork, etc), I use ½ fish sauce and ½ hoisen sauce. This modification works beautifully in the more hearty dishes.

    • So glad you’re enjoying Stonesoup Chris.

      Yes fish sauce can be intense… great idea to substitute in with hoisin sauce :)

  • Funny this post should come up now. I just had a burnt disaster while trying to steam broccoli (and waiting for potatoes to cook). Fortunately it wasn’t too bad. I’ve had at least my fair share of such disasters, and I think the hardest one to clean up was when I was making bitter chocolate icing for a sachertorte. One helpful tip I can offer for clean up is to fill your pot part way with water, add some baking soda, and cook it over low heat (you have to watch it, because it will boil over in a heart beat – I find I have to turn the heat off and on several times). This will help soften the burnt-on stuff. My mother always used to do the same thing with dishwashing soap, and I’ve also used the combination of soap and baking soda. In either case, watch them carefully… :-)

  • Thank you so much for this post! I very often make things burn, especially when I use my Le Creuset pot, so I’m feeling a little less stupid now!

  • I wouldn’t try this with ‘burnt’, but I managed to rescue overcooked scrambled eggs by just adding another egg. Worked a treat!

  • Have you ever burnt peas oh boy the smell .
    I usually tip them out and put cold water and a teaspoon of salt
    in pot and leave to soak for a while some time l leave it to clean the next day .It does work Viv

    • You know Viv,
      I don’t cook peas very often because I still have a bit of a childhood phobia about them… bit of a guilty secret… but am planning on getting into peas more now so Fergal doesn’t miss out on them. Will be extra careful to avoid burning them!

  • I thought I would share a tip my elderly Dad told me. Stop using steel wool to scrub stainless steel……….how else do you clean them? Well before I tell you what worked, once I stopped using steel wool things didn’t stick so badly when I did burn things. I make yogurt twice a week and have had a mishap or three with burnt milk and he is right….as soon as i stopped scrubbing the burned bottoms with steel wool the milk stopped sticking. So now to the method of cleaning burnt stainless steel pans – I soaked them in water and bi-carb soda – cover the burnt bits with about an inch of water and may three heaped tablespoons of bi-carb, allow that to soak overnight and then use the plastic scourers and some elbow grease and it cleaned up beautifully. Not sure if the bi-carb helps the steel to ‘heal’ somehow but I have not had a sticking problem since I stopped with the steel wool……oh and I finally learned to keep stirring and not lose focus when bringing milk to the boil. :)

    • Thanks Angie (and your Dad)
      Interesting thought about stainless steel ‘healing’ but sounds like you’re onto something…
      And sounds like bicarb is working for you as well . Great!

  • Follow with a hard fruit or vegetable too clean out the machine.
    People begin juicing – adding freshly juiced fruits and
    vegetables to their diet – for a vast range of reasons.
    It can be a beneficial part of your weight loss plan as well.

  • this recipe sounds awesome! my question, tho- what is a “rasher” of bacon? is that an entire package, a few slices, a single serving? cuz as much as i luv bacon, whoa, 6 whole packs of it seems kinda overkill…

  • whoopsie, guess i should’ve read comments BEFORE posting, i see Gail Plaskiewicz asked my question already… 1 rasher = 1 slice, gotcha! thanks anywho! ;-)

  • Just had a burning incident last night, low heat but reducing a beautiful lamb stew from a heritage lamb neck and shanks, (not cheap), and at the end of the night made the mistake if not only stiring, but scraping, 2 hours later I’ve removed all bits of burned part manually using a sheet pan and fork, not aneeded easy feat with a brown dative full of eggplant and smoked lamb, tastes ok now, but lots of homemade middle eastern spices, cumin, coriander, sumac, berbere

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