How to Salt Food Properly (When Cooking)

When I watch professional Chefs cook I find that they use salt very different than most home cooks.  And, while many cookbooks and TV shows use salt in a similar fashion to home cooks, many Chef friends insist on using salt in a very different way than the rest of us.

For the sake of this argument, I’m going to avoid the topic of seasoning meat (including brining and pre-seasoning) and generalize about ‘cooking.’  The problem of such generalizations is that there are always exceptions including the fact that I’m sure there are home cooks who already follow this advice as well as pros who admonish it.  There are also dishes (such as stock) where this ‘rule’ is completely thrown out (I’m a fan of salting stock at the end because it’s only then when you know how much liquid you’ll have and how much salt you’ll need).

The advice from many of my Chef friends, when it comes to salt, is to salt your dish through the cooking process.  They’re not necessarily adding more salt than you do; just adding it a bit at a time as the dish cooks.  As opposed to a recipe which calls to add a specific measure of salt, they add a little at a time throughout the cooking process.  I’ve heard 3 reasons for this most often:

  1. Salt draws flavors out as you cook and seasoning as you go changes the flavor.
  2. Cooking often reduces the volume or size of your food.  Adding all the salt at the start risks over-salting.
  3. Many add salt once and forget it; seasoning as you go makes you conscious of the changing flavors.

I can’t prove any of those 3 ‘reasons’ as factually correct but I have changed how I cook over the years and I now salt throughout the entire cooking process and I believe it makes a significant different in my results.

When do you add salt to your cooking – and why?

Comments

  1. I generally salt twice: once at the beginning while sauteeing aromatics to draw the liquid out of the onions, and then at the end to correct for flavour.

  2. Rodney R says:

    This is a great subject. For stocks, reductions, salsas, hot sauces and everything else complex I add salt at the end. I try to build flavor in layers by controlling the cooking process and adding acids such as vinegar, citrus or wine. I’ll try your suggestion in the future. For meat, always before cooking to draw moisture. For bread, after the first rise to get better yeast development.

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