Burning your dinner is never fun. After all the time and effort, you can't help but feel like your hard work was wasted. If you've burned spaghetti sauce, don't give up just yet — there may be a way to salvage your dinner.
Burning spaghetti sauce usually happens when the temperature is too high and the sauce is left unattended and unstirred. As long as the burned flavor hasn't affected the entire sauce, you can probably save it. You can try diluting the sauce, which may extend the cooking time you had originally planned on.
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Here, celebrity chef Serena Poon shares her method for fixing burned spaghetti sauce and some tips to prevent this mishap in the first place.
Things You'll Need
Saucepan or small pot
Pasta sauce from a jar
Sweetener, like sugar or honey
Sweet wine (optional)
Sweet vegetables (optional)
How to Fix Burned Spaghetti Sauce
"Spaghetti sauce becomes burned when it is cooked on high heat, for too long or if you forget to stir," Poon says. "In all cases, the spaghetti sauce will begin to stick to the edge of the pan and burn where it sticks."
1. Find Out if the Sauce Is Actually Burned
How can you tell if you've burned your sauce? Rely on your sight and smell.
"The first sign that your spaghetti sauce is burning is usually a burned smell," Poon says. "Once you walk over to the pot, you'll likely see that the edges of your sauce have begun to harden and the sauce might appear thicker and drier than is ideal."
If this is the case, it's time to go into recovery mode.
2. Remove Salvageable Sauce
Take a close look at the saucepot. The problem usually starts on the outside, so the middle of the sauce is likely salvageable.
With a ladle, scoop out the middle of the sauce.
Do not scrape the bottom of the pot — that would cause the chunks of burned or overly browned parts to incorporate into your sauce.
3. Transfer Sauce to a New Pot
Dump the contents of the saucepan into another similar-sized saucepan.
Soak the former pan in warm water and dish detergent for easier cleaning later.
4. Add More Sauce
Part of fixing burned spaghetti sauce is addressing the burned flavor. If you're wondering how to get rid of the burned taste, the answer is simple: Dilute the sauce you salvaged. You'll need to add more ingredients to the pot, which will vary depending on if the sauce came from a jar or is homemade.
"If you are cooking from a jar, simply add more pre-made sauce," says Poon. "If you are making your pasta sauce from scratch, add more tomatoes and herbs."
5. Add Ingredients to Taste
Adding more sauce may not be enough to correct the burned taste. You may need to add other ingredients, such as tomatoes, sweet vegetables and sweeteners like sugar and honey or herbs. Oregano, basil and Italian seasoning are good pairings, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Go easy with the sweetener, though, and add it gradually. Poon recommends adding sweet wine, sugar or honey to balance out any bitterness. Sweet basil is also a great option.
"If you have them on hand, you can also blend in new, sweeter ingredients such as yellow or orange tomatoes or sweet peppers," Poon says.
6. Cook on Low Heat and Stir Constantly
Allow the sauce to re-reduce on the stove at low heat. The recently added ingredients will thin out the sauce again, so this is necessary to achieve proper consistency.
Heating sauce from a jar is quick and usually only takes a few minutes, but you'll have to be patient with homemade sauce. Homemade tomato sauce may need to simmer for about 40 minutes, according to the USDA.
Use a cooking spoon to stir the sauce from the bottom up and around the sides of the pot. Stir the sauce frequently to prevent burning, per the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Quick Tips for Fixing Burned Sauce
If you walked away from your sauce and it became burned, don’t throw it out just yet. Here are a few ways to fix burned spaghetti sauce.
- If the entire pot hasn't burned, remove the parts that have burned and save the salvageable parts.
- Balance out the bitterness with sweet ingredients, such as sugar, honey, sweet wine or sweet vegetables.
- Add more herbs.
- Thin out the remaining sauce with more tomato base. Use sauce from a jar or add more tomatoes.
- Turn down the heat.
- Stir constantly.
Preventing Burned Sauce in the First Place
If you want to feed your family a nutritious and delicious meal, spaghetti is simple — but it's also easy to mess up if you make a rookie mistake.
"Simmering your spaghetti sauce on low heat, keeping an eye on your sauce and stirring constantly can help you avoid burning your spaghetti sauce," Poon says.
The key to cooking spaghetti sauce is to let it simmer. There's no need to use a high flame or high heat setting. This isn't boiling pasta, so stick to a low heat.
Keep on stirring. Sauce won't be able to stick to the bottom or sides of the pot if you keep things moving.
Spaghetti sauce needs constant attention. Resist the temptation to walk away. Keep an eye on the sauce by staying nearby. If there are any signs that your sauce is burning, you'll see or smell them immediately, giving you plenty of time to rectify the situation.
If you taste the original sauce and it has a thoroughly burned taste, just throw it out. It can't be recovered.