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.