Salt maybe the most common ingredient across all food cultures. As one of the five basic tastes, humans have been using it in their food for thousands of years. Salt is too common, so most of us simply don’t realize it’s true powers. When used in right amounts, at the right time, that simple and ordinary salt in your salt cellar can perform miracles. It can be used to cut down bitterness, increase sweet/savory flavors or act as a flavor enhancer, other than just adding saltiness to your dish.
As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”. It is important to use salt in moderation to avoid serious health issues or simply, to get the most out of your food experience.
So, let’s get back to the important question. When should I add salt?
Generally speaking, salt should be added in the beginning stages of the cooking process, at least for most dishes. Let’s see why…
When added at the beginning, salt has more time to penetrate through the meat and vegetables. However, adding salt at the end will only coat it around your food. For an example, carrots that were cooked with salt added in the beginning will taste sweet and flavorful. However, if the salt was added towards the end, they will taste saltier outside and less flavor inside.
Adding salt at the right time can directly impact the texture of your food. When cooking meat, for an instance, it is always better to add salt at the beginning, as this will make meat more tender and flavorful. Same applies for vegetables.
However, we should also remember that salt brings out the moisture. Let’s say you are sautéing mushrooms, and adding salt in the beginning. This will draw out all the flavorful juices from the mushrooms, leaving you with a dried and rubbery mess. In that case, it’s always better to wait till the end to salt (in moderation, of course) the mushrooms.
But what if I’m are sautéing onions, and I want them sweet, juicy and soft?
Then you can introduce salt at the very beginning. The moisture drawn out from the onions will slow down the cooking process, so you won’t end up with brown, caramelized onion bits.
If you are using iodized salt, it is always recommended to add it after cooking, to prevent iodine losses.
Always keep in mind to start with the least amount of salt when cooking, as temperature changes can change salty flavor over time. In case you have added too much salt, you can use potatoes, cream, unsalted butter or even lime juice to reduce the saltiness, as long as your dish permits.
These are just general guidelines to give you a basic understanding of cooking techniques. Remember that at the end of the day, it is up to you to decide the way you want to use your ingredients, to make the dish you want. So go out there, and explore your creativity!
- Rana, Ritu, and Rita Singh Raghuvanshi. “Effect of different cooking methods on iodine losses.” Journal of Food Science and Technology, Springer India, Dec. 2013, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3791240/.