Friday, May 24, 2013

How to Season to Taste (Video)

"Season to taste."  It's the phrase you've seen in every cookbook.  It's finally time to find out what that means.

YouTube Link: How to Season to Taste
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel

Now that we know HOW, let's talk about WHEN.  These are very general guidelines since every type of dish is a bit different. Normally, you salt every time an ingredient goes into a pot or pan.  If you wait till the end, the dish will be salty, but the salt won't have a chance to bring out the flavor of ingredients as they are cooking.  When seasoning during cooking aim for 80%, so that you can add that final 20% in the end.  This will give your dish a flavor boost since the salt activates the volatile flavor compounds.  That's also a time to reach for that acidic ingredient.  Don't be surprised if you need another pinch of salt after you add acidity.  They play off each other.  By "in the end," I don't mean at the table.  I mean in the very end of the cooking time.  There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Stocks are not seasoned until you are cooking with them.  In some cases, they are reduced a lot (as much as 8 times) and seasoning them in the beginning would make them too salty.
  • I am sure you've seen a huge bag of spinach wilt down to 1/4 cup.  Hold off with seasoning your leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale, etc) until they wilt.
  • The liquid for stews and braises is usually not salted directly.  After a long cooking time that most braises require, the liquid will reduce a lot, so seasoning it to taste in the beginning will result in too much salt.  The meat and aromatic vegetables are salted before cooking, and a lot of that salt eventually ends up in the braising liquid.  In 90% of my meat braises, I don't need to add any salt in the end.  But I always taste my sauce for salt before serving and adjust as necessary.
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Kari said...

Wonderful illustration, nicely done!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing out your main points in addition to the video. I love your expertise and its great to be able to refer to it without re-watching the video.

Shirley said...

What is the right time to add salt to lentils? Nice post. I like to swing from YouTube to your blog.

Helen said...

Traditionally, lentils and beans are salted after cooking, but that's an old wives' tale. I salt the water in the beginning of cooking and they come out more evenly seasoned.

Shirley said...

Thanks for the response.