The mind wanders, the sauce sizzles. Burnt sauces happen to every cook, from the experienced to the neophyte. The instinct may be to toss the sauce and start over, but this kitchen disaster can be overcome with a little ingenuity. The key is not to panic, but to match the possible remedy to the type of sauce you are preparing. The result may not be cooking competition-worthy, but it will be definitely edible and quite possibly inspired.
Remove the burnt sauce from the burner immediately. Plunge the bottom of the saucepan in cold water to stop cooking and further scorching. Do not immerse the whole pan in water, just get the outside bottom of the pan wet. Grab a new saucepan and fill it with the sauce, starting from the top and taking care not to scrape burnt sauce from the bottom of the old pan. If burnt bits get into the rescued sauce, strain the sauce using a fine strainer and place back into the new saucepan.
Try the raw potato trick. The experts at the Knorr sauce company advise putting a raw, peeled potato into the new saucepan with the sauce. The raw potato will absorb the burnt taste. Set the sauce aside for roughly 15 minutes and remove the raw potato. Gently reheat the sauce.
Add smooth peanut butter 1 tsp. at a time, if you scorched the turkey or chicken gravy, until the burnt flavor is gone. Peanut butter takes away the burnt taste from gravies without changing the original taste. The peanut butter method also works with tomato sauces. Burned tomato-based sauces can also be doctored up with sugar, but remember to only add 1 tsp. at a time, tasting until you cannot detect the burnt flavor.
Mask the strong tang of burnt sauces by adding a bit of mustard or curry powder, which lend a subtle smokiness to the mixture. Again, start with 1/2 or 1 tsp. and taste-test before adding more spice. Enhance the sauce's smoky, spicy flavor by also plopping a few drops of chipotle hot sauce into the mixture.
Things You'll Need
Madeira, sherry or other fortified wine
Tomato paste or tomato puree
Instead of a raw potato, a piece of bread may also absorb the burnt taste in sauces. Remove the bread before reheating the sauce.
Other burnt sauce-saving techniques include a few spritzes of lemon or lime juice and a splash of fortified wine, such as Madeira, sherry or port. The sweetness of a tablespoon or two of tomato puree may camouflage scorched sauces and gravies. Sauteing a chopped onion in butter or olive oil until it carmelizes and adding to the mixture is yet another method to render compromised sauces more palatable.