How to season with salt

We asked the pros for techniques to help home cooks season with salt more efficiently. Warning: You won’t find total consensus, but the experts we spoke with do agree that proper use of salt results in food that tastes more like itself, not food that tastes salty.

— B.S.B.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

Join our live chat

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. Join us every Wednesday at noon.

Gallery

From Serious Eats managing editor J. Kenji López-Alt:

■ Get a salt cellar and fill it with coarse kosher salt. (His go-to is Diamond Crystal kosher salt.) Keep it where you cook. Practice pinches, the feel of how many grains you need.

■To salt a steak in advance, sprinkle on just enough to resemble a light dusting of snow, akin to a flurry’s effect on an empty parking lot.

From Rutgers University nutrition professor Paul Breslin:

■We can best taste sodium (ions) when dissolved in water.

■ A fine salt will yield greater salty flavor on your tongue than larger salt crystals. Test that by placing a half-teaspoon of coarse kosher salt on your tongue, then spit it out. Repeat using the same volume of fine-grained salt. You’ll feel the large crystals, but they won’t register as salty as the fine salt.

From cookbook author Dorie Greenspan:

■ Before you can learn to season with salt, it’s good to taste and see whether you have preferences. Taste as many salts as you can, either by sprinkling the salt over a piece of bread spread with unsalted butter or over slices of raw cucumber, carrot or celery.

■ Taste, taste, taste, and remember to season early and often as you cook. The salt you add during cooking has a different (deeper, more penetrating) effect from the salt you add to finish a dish. Every ingredient that goes into a dish should be seasoned; think of it as layering. And you should taste, if not at every stage, then toward the end for sure.■

■Remember to use salt in baking. Just like savories, sweets need to be “seasoned.” Without it, you’re not getting all the flavor that’s possible from ingredients such as butter, brown sugar, caramel and chocolate, among others.

From cooking-show host Sara Moulton:

■When salting as you go, sprinkle lightly.

From chemistry professor emeritus Robert L. Wolke:

■Bake with unsalted butter; four ounces (one stick) of salted butter can contain up to 1 / 2 teaspoon of salt.

■Bake with kosher salt or sea salt instead of iodized table salt; the ions in some potassium iodide (in table salt) can be oxidized to form iodine, and that can create an acrid flavor.

From Food editor Joe Yonan:

■ ■Make your favorite soup recipe, with two changes: Don’t add any salt at all, divide the soup into two halves, and keep both warm.

■Put 1 teaspoon of kosher or coarse sea salt into a little dish. Add salt to half of the soup a pinch at a time, tasting as you go, and pay attention to how the flavors develop, clarifying and brightening.

■ ■Keep adding until you get to the point where you think the soup tastes too salty — that is, you taste more salt than the soup’s main ingredients.

■ ■Now look to see how much salt you have left; measure it if you like, and subtract that from 1 teaspoon.

■ ■Try the exercise again with the second half of the soup, this time with the goal of stopping just short of that too-salty flavor. Make the measurement calculation again, if you like, and take note: That is about how much salt you like in a recipe of this size, and that is the proportion you should be going for when you’re cooking. (If you’d rather not measure, that’s fine too; it’s better to get to the point where salting becomes intuitive.)

More from Food:

With ‘salt to taste,’ who knows?

More food content

Show more
 
Read what others are saying

    Dealing with spring weeds

    A year to replant the rosemary