It happens — but what do you do? You can burn the heck out of everyone’s mouth, toss the whole dish into the garbage, feed the compost pile, or maybe somehow salvage what you’ve made.
There are those of you who routinely look for the spiciest food around and are probably thinking – so what’s the problem? But, for those of you – like me – who would prefer not to have your mouth on fire – there are ways to calm down an over-spiced dish. After some research, here’s a bunch of suggestions (in no particular order). Maybe some will work for your dish, and maybe not, but file them in your memory and give one or two a try when you’re staring at a pot of over-spiced food.
- First, know your peppers — they vary in the amount of heat they have. You can always decrease the amount you use. Be sure to remove the inner membranes and seeds which is where the majority of the heat resides. Capsaicin is the active component in chili peppers and the amount varies according to the variety and maturity of the pepper. Habanero peppers are always extremely hot while ancho and paprika peppers can be as mild as a bell pepper.
- For three alarm dishes, one prime suggestion is to dilute the heat. Make another batch of the recipe and omit the “overly used” or the “heat” ingredient and combine it with the over-spiced batch. Now you have a double recipe with diluted heat and you can freeze the extra. You can also add more stock, broth, canned tomatoes, or beans depending on the recipe – just make certain there is no added seasoning. A can or two of refried beans or mashed canned beans helps dilute spiciness, helps thicken chili, increases the fiber and protein content, and gives you more servings without the higher cost of more meat.
- Dairy helps neutralize the spice in a dish (and in your mouth). You can use (full fat is best) milk, sour cream, or yogurt. Other suggestions are whipping cream or evaporated milk. If you can’t or don’t have time to incorporate dairy into the dish, offer sour cream or yogurt on the side.
- Serve chili or curry over rice. The rice tones down the spices and adds bulk to the recipe. Bread and other grains also help.
- Add some potatoes or another starchy vegetable like corn. You probably won’t even notice the corn in chili. If you use potatoes, peel and cube a couple and mix them in. Leave them in until they are cooked through. Remove them (or not, depending on taste) and serve.
- Try stirring in a couple tablespoons of peanut butter (you could also use almond or other nut butters or tahini) to cut the heat. Depending on the dish it won’t really alter the taste but might give a little more depth to the flavor and make chili seem a little creamier. Because it may not be an expected ingredient, be certain that no one has nut or peanut allergies.
- Add some lime, lemon, vinegar or something acidic that won’t mess with the other flavors. Acid cuts through heat.
- You don’t want to turn your dish into dessert, but sugar goes a long way toward neutralizing the spiciness. So does honey. Add a teaspoon at a time and keep tasting. Some people use sweet or semi-sweet chocolate to mask the spice, but not so much that the dish ends up tasting like chocolate. Sugar combined with an acid like vinegar or lemon or lime juice works particularly well.
- Any number of additions can help tame the heat without radically affecting flavor. Add a can of crushed pineapple to your chili — it will essentially disappear but will also helping to counteract the heat. Other kinds of fruit and carrots may work, too.