Just a Pinch: How Using Salt Correctly Will Make You a Better Cook


Using salt correctly will revolutionize the way that you cook — and the way your dishes turn out. The biggest mistake that most home-cooks make is the fact that they tend to under-season their dishes.

Salt is arguably the most important seasoning used in cooking. It isn’t just that it adds a salty flavor to food but it also suppresses bitterness and enhances other flavors. There are a variety of salt types and each has a different use or characteristic. Becoming familiar with the different types will help you use salt to make your dishes the best that they can be.

When to Salt Foods

Normally you don’t want to actually taste salt in a dish, you want the salt to enhance the flavor of the dish you are serving but there are exceptions. What would pretzels, French fries, or salted caramels be without the crunchy burst of salt crystals?

Some foods are best salted at the beginning of cooking. These would include things like soups, sauces, meats, and water for pasta and vegetables. Fried foods like chips, French fries, and onion rings are best salted after they come out of the fryer.

Still, generally foods are best when they are tasted and seasoned multiple times during cooking — especially when you are adding in a new ingredient. As foods cook they release flavor so the broth you taste after twenty minutes of cooking is not the same as the broth you taste after forty-five minutes of cooking. It’s good to taste and add your seasonings a little at a time. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of salt consider adding it in several different stages.

The biggest secret to salting food properly is to taste, taste, taste! Using salt correctly means constantly adjusting the flavors of your dish.

Types of Salt

There are several types of salt and each has it’s own character.

Table Salt

This is the salt that most home-cooks use. It has a harsh flavor and can leave a bitter aftertaste. It’s not recommended by most professional chefs.

Kosher Salt

Kosher salt is the all-purpose salt. It dissolves fast and evenly and it doesn’t leave any aftertaste. This is the best salt to have on hand if you are only going to have one.

Sea Salt Crystals

Sea salt is added just before serving. This is a good finishing salt that creates bursts of salty flavor to each bite.

Flaked Sea Salt

Flaked sea salt is thinner and more delicate in texture than crystallized sea salt. Add it to cooked vegetables before serving. This and Fleur de Sel tend to dissolve at different rates on the tongue so that you get a balanced flavor rather than a burst of saltiness followed by nothing at all.

Fleur de Sel

This is an extravagant table salt with a delicate flavor that can be added to foods that are on the plate.

How to Fix Salt Mistakes

Dishes can be overly salty even if you are using salt correctly and are very careful.

Salt can concentrate as your dish simmers and the liquids reduce, it can diminish in the refrigerator as a dish chills, or it can change when different ingredients are added. Always taste foods jut before serving.

If you’ve over-salted then you have a couple of options. Adding a bit of unsalted butter or heavy cream will help counteract the salt.

Another possibility is to grate raw potatoes into your dish, simmer for about eight minutes, and then strain. The potatoes absorb the excess salt. They may not get all of it but they will diminish it quite a lot.

photo credit: Charles Haynes via photopin cc

- Marye Audet

Marye Audet is an author, freelance writer, and editor. Cooking, baking, and recipe development have been a major part of her life since she baked her first loaf of bread at age 13. Luckily, with a husband, eight children, a son in law, and three grandchildren she has enough test-tasters to handle the steady stream of experiments that come from her kitchen.

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