Use of salt is one of the major paradoxes in cooking. On one hand, any doctor worth their salt will tell you to limit your salt intake or all sorts of medical badness will surely arise: heart disease, high blood pressure, and waking up in the morning with a really dry mouth. On the other hand, do you want to know why a seasoned chef’s food tastes so good? They know how to use salt.
Salt is an important component in any dish for a number of reasons. The first is simple osmosis. Adding salt to meat or vegetables extracts liquids from them, causing them to saute faster and bringing out their flavors. Also, remember that your tongue has one set of taste buds dedicated solely to tasting sodium cholride so adding salt to a dish causes those taste buds to fire and makes the food taste better.
Tips for using salt:
1. Before cooking with meat, coat with a light dusting of salt and pepper and let the meat sit. This will begin the process of extracting the juices and will help promote the formation of a crust when the meat cooks.
2. Anytime vegetables are added to a dish, add at least a small pinch of salt. If you are sauteing a large batch of vegetables or adding watery vegetables, use extra salt.
3. Salt and dessert? Absolutely. All baked goods contain at least a little salt as do many ice creams and fruit dishes. Why? Because those dishes need to tickle the salt taste buds just like savory dishes.
4. Do not oversalt. Part of cooking is figuring out the optimal level of salt to use in a dish and it is much easier to add salt at the end than take it out once it has been cooked.
5. Remember that other ingredients in a dish may have their own salt content. Things like onion salt, garlic salt, and soy sauce are obvious examples, but many commercial broths and butter (thanks Sue!) have their own salt content. When using thost ingredients in a dish, remember to take their salt into account. In fact, when I cook with soy sauce, I rarely add any extra salt to the dish because the soy sauce tends to have plenty.
6. Taste the dish before you eat it! Espeically if you take #5 to heart and do not oversalt while you cook, you want to be sure that you have not underseasoned before you serve the dish.
Bottom line: do not be afraid to use a little salt in your food (unless you are on a doctor’s mandated low sodium diet.) If you take nothing else to heart, at least use a little salt when cooking vegetables. It will make them taste a lot better.
Oh and yes, the puns in this article were purely intentional.