The Secret to Perfectly Salted Food
Learn how and when to salt foods properly during cooking to enhance natural flavors and make a perfectly seasoned dish.
Learning to salt your food correctly as you are preparing it is probably one of the most important cooking skills you can develop.
Salt is a powerful flavor enhancer, but it takes a little time to work its magic, so salting your food during the various stages of preparation is the key to great taste.
How to salt your food
The reason for salting foods is to intensify, develop, blend and balance flavors, which is why salt should be added in small quantities throughout the cooking process.
Kosher salt is the best choice for use during cooking. No doubt you’ve heard this recommendation before, but the basic reasoning behind it is always the same – it’s easy to control the quantity of kosher salt, it adheres to food well and it dissolves fairly easily.
You should keep your salt handy while cooking so you can easily add a pinch here and there. You can get yourself a special container like a salt pig or wooden salt box, or just dish some up in a small prep bowl and store it near the stove.
If you have artisanal salts on hand, reserve them for use as a finishing element so that their individual flavor profiles are not lost in the cooking process.
Proper salting proportions
- For soups, stocks, sauces, and gravies: 1-1/2 teaspoons salt per quart.
- For raw meats, poultry, fish, and seafood: 3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt per pound.
- For salting pasta water, add 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt for each quart of water (general rule of thumb is 4 quarts water for 1 lb pasta).
Important note: These proportions don’t apply when using pre-prepared ingredients like store-bought broth, sauces or seasoned meats.
When to add salt to your foods during cooking
Here are a few guidelines for salting common foods:
- Add salt to meat, fish and poultry just before you are ready to cook it for maximum flavor enhancement. Some believe that salting meats prior to cooking draws out the juices and produces a dry end result, but this is simply not true. What salting meats too far in advance of cooking can do, however, is inhibit browning.
- When making a sauce, add a pinch of salt to ingredients like garlic and onions while sautéing, add your liquids and salt again. Finish cooking, taste and adjust the salt once more if necessary. It may sound like you’d be using too much salt this way, but surprisingly, if you work in stages you will most likely end up using less salt because the flavors of your ingredients will develop more fully.
- When blanching or boiling vegetables, salt the water prior to cooking. If you are steaming your veggies, salt immediately after cooking. Roasted and grilled vegetables should be salted prior to cooking. Raw vegetables should be salted just before serving.
- For a simple vinaigrette, add the salt to the vinegar and dissolve before adding the oil, then add a pinch more salt to your greens and toss, prior to dressing.
- For homemade stock, add salt to your flavoring ingredients during the sautéing or roasting stages – not to the liquid. Once the stock is finished, taste and adjust the salt accordingly.
- When cooking pasta or boiling potatoes, always salt your water before adding the food.
Perfect seasoning is the key to great food and it helps to think of salt as a tool to help you bring the natural flavors of your ingredients to the foreground. Give the process a bit of thought and with a little practice, seasoning like a pro should become second nature.