Learn how and when to salt foods properly during cooking to enhance natural flavors and make a perfectly seasoned dish.
Know Your Salt Varieties
Learning to salt your food correctly as you are preparing it is probably one of the most important cooking skills you can develop and understanding the differences between the various types of salt can be a big help. Here’s a brief guide to the most common varieties.
Table salt is the most common salt variety, and since it is a practical choice for baking and cooking, you’ll find it in just about every household. Table salt comes from salt mines, has very fine crystals, and commonly has iodine added for nutritional value (iodized).
Kosher salt is the top choice of professional chefs because of its coarse grain. It is easy to grab a “pinch” and control the quantity when adjusting the seasoning in a dish. Like table salt, it comes from mines and is called kosher, not because it conforms to the dietary laws of the Jewish religion (just about all salt is kosher), but because its texture is optimal for the “koshering” of meat.
Both table and kosher salt are composed of pure sodium chloride with the controlled addition of an anti-caking substance and possibly iodine as mentioned earlier.
Sea salts differ from table and kosher salt in that they are obtained from evaporated seawater. In addition to sodium chloride, sea salts contain various trace elements that are inherent to the seawater in the area they come from.
Sea salts are often used as what we call finishing salts because they are flaky, dissolve easily, and adhere well to most foods. It’s also interesting to note that different varieties have subtle differences in flavor. Once you taste a few varieties, you may decide to keep several on hand for different applications.
The best known of all sea salts are sel gris and fleur de sel, both from the Brittany region of France. Sel Gris is composed of heavier crystals that have acquired the gray hue of the earth at the bottom of the salt ponds where the evaporation process takes place. The lighter crystals that float to the surface of the salt ponds are skimmed off and dubbed Fleur de Sel.
Other common varieties of sea salt are Maldon, Hawaiian “Red,” and Trapani. Maldon, produced on the east coast of England, is a mild salt with a distinctive texture. Hawaiian “Red” salt is a mellow-tasting salt that contains natural trace minerals and electrolytes from a type of Hawaiian clay called Alaea. Trapani salt, harvested from the Mediterranean on the northwest coast of Sicily, is a balanced variety with a relatively low percentage of sodium chloride.
Himalayan Pink Salt
Himalayan Pink Salt is in a class by itself. Painstakingly mined from deep within the Himalayan Mountains, these salt deposits were created hundreds of millions of years ago during the formation of the mountain range.
Himalayan Pink Salt is among the purest and healthiest of salts, containing dozens of trace elements and minerals including magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper and the iron that passes on its delicate pink hue. In addition to its beautiful appearance and notable health benefits, Himalayan salt has a distinctive subtle flavor that makes it a winning choice as a finishing salt.
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. It’s 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.
As mentioned above, kosher salt is the best choice for use during cooking because it’s easy to control the quantity, 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 saltbox, 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.
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.
Proper Salting Proportions
- For soups, stocks, sauces, and gravies: 1-1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt per quart. If using table salt, cut back to 1-1/8 teaspoons per quart.
- For raw meats, poultry, fish, and seafood: 3/4 to 1 teaspoon Kosher salt per pound. If using table salt, cut back to 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoons per pound.
- For salting pasta water, add 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt (or 3/4 teaspoon table salt) for each quart of water. The general rule of thumb for water quantity is 4 quarts per pound of pasta (4 teaspoons of Kosher salt).
Important note: These proportions don’t apply when using pre-prepared ingredients like store-bought broth, sauces, or seasoned meats.
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. And, for an extra layer of flavor, consider giving our homemade all-purpose seasoning blend a try.