(From Fine Cooking Magazine, March, 2002)

If you've ever forgotten to put salt into a recipe, then you know how "blah" such a dish can taste---dull, flat, flavorless. A pinch of salt boosts the flavor of ANY dish, yes, even desserts. For unknown reasons, many people are confused and to how, when, and/or how much to salt a particular dish.

Mastering the art of salt is one of the most important skills any cook can develop. The best and even not so great chefs add a pinch of salt at every stage of preparation of a dish. It's called "layering", where each ingredient added to a pan or skillet is seasoned lightly to bring out the natural flavors of the ingredient. The end result of this process is retention of multiple layers of different flavors in the finished dish.

First, learn how to salt:

  • When baking (cakes, bread, cookies, etc.), always use the exact measurement stated in the recipe. There is science involved here. Also, be sure to measure level.
  • Get rid of your salt shaker. Get some kosher salt, put in a container, and keep it by the stove.
  • When sauteeing vegetables, e.g. onions, always sprinkle a little salt after putting them in the pan.
  • Grab a pinch of salt between the thumb, index finger and third finger.
  • Hold the hand high above the pan or pot (about 1-1/2 feet).
  • Rub the grains of salt firmly, and in a circular motion, sprinkle the salt even around the surface.
  • For soups, stews, gravies, sauces, etc., taste first to determine how much additional salt is needed.
  • Preparation of food for others requires a judicial decision in order not to over-salt.
Marinara Sauce as example:
  • Lightly salt the onions and garlic as they sautè in the oil.
  • Add the tomatoes and lightly salt again.
  • When sauce is almost done, taste it; then add a pinch more salt if needed.
Where to salt---and when:
  • Salad greens - Add salt and toss just before adding dressing.
  • Raw vegetables - Add salt just before serving.
  • Green vegetables - Salt the water before blanching or boiling. If steaming, salt after cooking.
  • Onions, shallots, leeks - Salt while sautèing or sweating.
  • Roasted or grilled vegetables - Salt before cooking.
  • Boiled root vegetables, pasta, rice, other grains - Salt the water before cooking.
  • Beans, other legumes - Soak in salted water; cook in salted water; add salt to taste before serving. (FC says it's a myth that salt tougthens beans.)
  • Eggs - Add immediately before or during cooking.
  • Seafood, poultry, meat - Season with salt just before cooking.
  • Large roasts - Add salt just before cooking; season lightly after slicing.
  • Whole birds - Salt all over, inside and outside, and under the skin where possible.
  • Homemade stock or broth - Salt ingredients when sautèing or sweating. Add salt to finished stock before straining but after reducing.
Saving an oversalted dish:
  • If you know instantly that you've added too much salt, don't stir it in. Grab a spoon and quickly lift out as much of the salt as possible.
  • After tasting a recipe that calls for an acid (lemon juice, vinegar, wine, buttermilk), try adding a little bit more to balance the salt.
  • If salt still dominates, you might consider adding more liquid and other ingredients to dilute.
  • If none of the above recitifes the problem, chuck the dish, chalk it up to experience, and begin again.
Seasoning with "specialty" or "artisan" salts:
  • Fleur de sel - Delicate white sea salt from the northern coast sof France. Sprinkle sparingly to finish simple seafood, rare lamb, pork tenderloin, or simple summer tomato salads.
  • Sel gris - Hard, moist crystals with tangy finish, also from France. Finish grilled or broiled lamb, duck breast, roasted potatoes, grilled vegetables and steamed greens.
  • Hawaiian alaea salt - Hard, pale-orange crystals with sily texture, contributed by natural red clay. Finish roasted pork, grilled seafood, potato or vegetable purèes.
  • Black salt - Purple rock salt from India, often sold in powdered form. Its taste of sulfur is a classic element of many Indian dishes. Season yogurt salads and chickpea salads.
  • Korean sea salt - Hard, moist crystals similar to sel gris but less expensive. Good choice for roasting a salt-encrusted fish.
  • Maldon sea salt - Hollow, pyramid-shaped crystals from the coast of England, similar to bnut slightly large than the American Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt; delicate, briny and fast-dissolving. Sprinkle on butter lettuce salads, other simnple greens salads, tomato and mozzarella salads, and cucumber salads.

QUESTIONS? Try me----e-mail me at shaboom@shentel.net!


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