THIS IS A BRIEF INSTRUCTION AIMED AT THE HOME COOK. -JRS
In this post (and in others to come) I want to cover what might be one of the most important aspects of cooking: how to season your food to make it taste better.
Generally speaking, the word “seasoning” is used very broadly to include anything that flavours food: spice, herbs, garlic, etc. However, in learning how to cook, I want you to think of seasoning in a stricter sense, namely anything that enhances the flavour of food, but does not necessarily flavour it. Take salt, the object of this lesson. When you use it properly, you end up with flavourful food—but not salty food.
In fact, salt might be the most important seasoning in your pantry. Others include acid (lemon, vinegar, etc.) and sugar (or other sweeteners), but salt is where you should start.
Here are some general tips to use it more effectively.
SEASON BY HAND.
If you see professionals cook, they always add salt by hand. This is extremely important: for one, you develop a kind of touch-based sensitivity for how much salt you’re adding; and two, you can season from a height, which distributes the salt evenly over the food. (This is also what is meant by a “pinch of salt”: you pick up salt between your thumb and fingers.) Keep some salt handy in a small bowl or container when cooking (I always have one next to the stove and another where I prep). Watch some videos of chefs and copy them.
Of course, when you’re starting out, your first question might be: How much salt do I add? This is where the next tip comes in.
YOU CAN ALWAYS ADD, BUT YOU CAN’T TAKE AWAY.
In general, season a little at a time while you’re still learning. Start small, adding bit by bit. That way, you’re unlikely to over-season.
Also, learn to season in steps, throughout the cooking process. Think of it this way: If you make a soup and toss in a bunch of salt after the soup has cooked, you end up with a salty broth and bland vegetables. The proper method is to season in stages, adding a bit of salt while sauteeing the vegetables at the start of cooking, and later checking the soup for seasoning and adjusting as necessary.
Which brings me to my next point.
TASTE. THINK. ADJUST.
Taste your food throughout the cooking process: it’s an absolute must. And don’t be shy, taste literally everything. If you’re making a pizza dough, for example, taste the raw dough. Taste the fermented dough. Taste the cooked crust. This is how you train your palate.
Each time you taste, think. What do you taste? What flavours are developing? And, for the purposes of this lesson, how is the seasoning? To go back to the soup, if the flavours are still a little bland, it probably needs more salt. Add a little, stir, and taste. Does it need a bit more? Adjust until you’re happy with it.
But when is enough, enough? That’s the final point.
SEASON TO TASTE.
You read that in every recipe. What it means is season to your tastes, because that’s what matters—you’re going to eat it, after all. So, whenever a recipe states “season to taste”, go through the things I’ve listed above, seasoning, tasting, thinking, adjusting, till the food is to your liking.
Like anything in life, you get better with practice. The great thing about food is, that when your food starts to taste better, you’ll only want to practice more. And since you have to eat every day, there’s plenty of opportunity to do so.