This info on how to salt your food is meant to help you when cooking without a recipe. When you bake or follow a recipe, the exact amount of salt is usually listed. But when you roast a chicken, boil pasta, sauté vegetables or cook rice you don’t necessarily have a recipe in front of you.
Salt is one of the most important flavor components in cooking. Unless you’re working with a processed food or ingredient (like soy sauce, mustard or hot sauce), knowing how to salt your food is KEY to making your food taste better. The bonus is that salt is the most inexpensive way to make your food taste better! See my post on How to Make Food Taste Better for the basics of balancing flavors.
This is not meant to make your food taste salty! I do not advocate for very salty tasting food at all. Adding just the RIGHT amount of salt brings out the flavors in the dish.
Tip #1 When do you add salt?
Add salt BEFORE cooking your food. This way, the salt absorbs into the ingredient while it’s cooking and is flavored on more than just the surface. It’s the same idea as marinating foods before you cook them.
If you are able to, proteins really benefit from sitting for a while with the salt on them.
- Thick steaks, pork chops, roasts and whole turkeys, turkey parts can go in the fridge overnight covered in salt. This is called dry brining.
- Skin-on, bone-in chicken can sit for a couple of hours refrigerated.
- Boneless skinless chicken, 30 minutes
- Fish absorbs salt and other flavors much more quickly and easily, so a light-medium coating of salt for 15 minutes works well.
If using other seasonings like pepper and spices, put the salt on FIRST. The salt will help pull those other flavors in with it.
Tip #2 Which type of salt should you use?
Salt comes in many shapes, sizes and flavors. The type of salt you use is not extremely important, but here are some of my preferences.
For meats and proteins, I prefer kosher salt. Kosher salt is a coarse grained salt. It’s easier to pinch between your fingers, sprinkle on and see it on the ingredient. It also dissolves better than fine grained granulated salt, aka table salt.
The different brands of kosher salt do vary so you’ll need to get used to the saltiness that your brand adds. I prefer Diamond Crystal over Morton’s Kosher salt. The Morton’s crystals are more dense, so it’s easier to overdo it. Diamond Crystal’s salt grains are lighter, break down easier and make it less likely that you’ll overdo it.
In baking, I usually use granulated salt since it’s what most recipes call for. But I don’t have a preference. However if you are using kosher salt in place of granulated or vise versa, the amounts are not the same.
- 1¼ tsp Mortons Kosher salt = 1 tsp granulated.
- 1¾ tsp Diamond crystal = 1 tsp granulated
Flavored salts are a nice way to add more flavor with just one ingredient. Smoked salt can add a wonderful smokey flavor to a barbecue sauce or grilled meat without needing a smoker. Truffle salts will add an earthy, garlicky flavor.
Tip #3 How much salt do you add?
The thicker the ingredient, the more salt it can take. The salt will be absorbed into the food during the cooking process. For example, with a 2″ thick steak, if you add a light sprinkling of salt, it will be enough to flavor the meat on the surface and just below but will not make it to the center. Add more and it will have a better chance of flavoring all the way through.
Thick cuts of meat like a roast, whole chicken or turkey should have every inch of their surface covered.
Thinner ingredients like skinless chicken and fish (which takes on salt pretty easily) should have a light-medium coating. I think of it as creating a little bit of space between the salt crystals.
Tip #4 Starches – Pasta, Rice, Quinoa, Beans, Potatoes
For ingredients that are boiled, add salt to the water! The salt in the water will be absorbed into the pasta, bean, grain and create great flavor.
Pasta water should be “salty like the sea.” Sounds crazy, I know. But the pasta will only absorb some of that salt, and your pasta will taste better than you could imagine. I add 1 Tbsp of kosher salt for each quart (4 cups) water.
Rice & quinoa – add 1/2 tsp granulated salt per cup of raw grain. Here are more detailed instruction on how to cook quinoa.
Mashed potatoes – Yes, add salt the water when boiling them! I use 2 tsps salt per pound of potatoes. Once the potatoes are mashed with butter or whatever you else add, taste. Then, if needed, add more, a few pinches at a time.
Tip #5 Taste, Taste, Taste!
Taste your food before serving. Sometimes an extra sprinkling of salt on top or mixed in, once it’s cooked, can make a big difference.
Tip #6 Just a pinch or two
When adding salt to already cooked food, do it a couple of pinches at a time and taste as you go. It is way easier to add more than it is to take it out!
For more information on balancing flavors in your cooking How to Balance Bitterness and How to Make food Taste Better.
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