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Do you season with salt as you cook or just at the end?

Hi

I host a monthly cooking club and a member last night told me that when you add salt during the cooking process it does not add or season the dish but just dissipates.

I was always told or at least under the impression that one should season with salt as you go to help build flavor for the end product. Personally I believe that it contributes especially when cooking bulgar, rice, potatoes, pasta, sauteing onions...I could go on.

Thoughts?

Jen

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  1. I agree with you, the flavor of food is much nicer with the salt cooked into it instead of sitting on top. I feel that seasoning afterwards just gives you a salty first taste with the "inside" of the food tasting flat. If you watch any cooking shows, you'll see that all the chefs/cooks salt as they go.

    1. I think it depends on what you're cooking. For example, if you're trying to brown something, such as mushrooms, it's good not to salt until the end because that would draw out too much water and the mushrooms would not brown. Other than that though, I would salt in the cooking process.

      10 Replies
      1. re: karen2006

        I agree with this. I would also not salt sauces such as tomato sauce until the end cause they'll reduce down a bit and that risks oversalting the dish. And since it's liquid anyhow, the salt dissolves in nicely.

        1. re: karen2006

          I often ADD salt to veggies, onions or mushrooms at the beginning of browning or sauteeing. It draws out the moisture so it can evaporate in the hot pan, speeding up caramelization. It also helps greens wilt faster, which is important if you have a big pile of them to cook and you need the volume to reduce quickly so they all fit in a pan. I usally throw a pinch of salt into a saute pan with each addition of raw vegetable, to help drive out the moisture and to deglaze the pan slightly. This is only effective if the pan is really hot and not crowded. Otherwise, you get a "sweat" not a saute.

          I think I first read this in a Chinese cookbook that instructed to add the salt when adding vegetables to a hot wok.Other flavors, like sugar or soy sauce get added later.

          1. re: the_MU

            that's interesting. i add salt to onions at the onset *because* i want them to sweat. having the water drawn out means more water in the pan, which means they'll sweat more.

            1. re: tommy

              Exactly. But if the pan is hot enough and uncrowded enough the sweating only lasts a few seconds and then it's back to dry heat. A fuller or cooler pan will get, um, sweatier.

              I found that a couple of tablespoons of liquid thrown into a pan of onions sizzling in butter will dissolve and release the sugar in the onions and then cook away, making them turn caramelly-brown faster without giving them that floppy, steamed quality. It's sorta cheating, but it works.

          2. re: karen2006

            interesting. I salt my sliced mushrooms at the onset to draw out the water so I can get them really caramelized and brown.

            1. re: scubadoo97

              you're operating under the assumption that things with water *in* them won't get brown (if that were true, steak wouldn't brown), and that drawing that moisture out into the pan helps browning more than not having that moisture in the pan.

              at the end of the day, if the pan is hot, has fat, isn't crowded, and you let everything sit, your stuff will brown. salt or not. there are many variables at play here, and i'm pretty sure everyone has browned their mushrooms just fine with whatever method floats their boat.

              science, or at least the attempt at the application of science when cooking, is often overrated.

              1. re: tommy

                I'm only quibbling for the heck of it, but it's not as if stuff completely dehydrates when you add salt to it. Steak isn't a good example -- the kind of brown crusty outside/tender inside you want in steak is totally different from the cooked-through caramelized quality you want from your mushrooms or onions. The micro-deglazing also helps slow down the browning so you don't get charred edges (unless that's what you want :) ).

                1. re: the_MU

                  steak is a perfect example, when illustrating that one needs not draw out moisture to induce the maillard reaction.

                  1. re: tommy

                    I'm just saying that the maillard reaction isn't the whole picture. Plus, you wouldn't want it to happen to the whole steak.

                    1. re: the_MU

                      i don't usually look for a maillard reaction on the inside of my onions and mushrooms, but YMMV. :)

          3. Salt before cooking, adjust seasoning after.

            1 Reply
            1. Well, I don't like the taste of salt so never add at all when I'm cooking. If folk want to add to their food at the table that's fine.

              9 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                To each his (or her) own and I respect your opinion, but I wonder if you're using, or have used, too much salt to cause your dislike of it? Salt is used to enhance the flavor of food. It should not stand on it's own, unless that's the point, as in, say, brined foods, cheeses, olives, etc.
                Does this mean that you don't salt water before cooking pasta, grains, rice?

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  Correct. I never add salt when I'm cooking, nor do I add it at the table (although it's always there as my partner instinctively adds salt to the plate). Must be getting on for 15 years since I stopped.

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    If I use salt, i add in the beginning like you. On the other hand, I NEVER salt rice, pasta, or grains. Filipinos and Latin Americans salt and oil rice, East Asians eat rice with no salt or oil.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      Sam,
                      This answers my question to why I don't order white rice in Asian restaurants.
                      It's too bland for me. But, everything else is so flavorful, I wonder why you don't add a little salt to it. Is there a reason? Thanx.

                      1. re: mcel215

                        We don't eat the rice separately from the savory dishes, dishes that range from slightly salty to very spicy. Each bite or mouthfull includes a bit of one of the main dishes plus some rice. The seasoning is in the savory dishes. The rice is appreciated for its appropriate inherent clean flavor and texture, be it hot, slightly sticky short grain gohan in Japan, separate long grain in China, or the delicious hand eaten sticky rice (khao niyao) in Laos.

                    2. re: bushwickgirl

                      Keller's new book Ad Hoc states this, it is a flavor enhancer and if you can taste it , it is
                      over salted. The only question I have on this is what about fries , popcorn and maybe eggs, there I want to taste the salt. Maybe that is a personal thing. In brined food it serves other purposes also.............firms product, breaks down some proteins and carries other brine flavors into product etc.

                      1. re: celeryroot

                        Well, popcorn is inherently bland and needs that "kick" of salt. Have you ever eaten an unsalted french fry? Blech. Salt does double duty with fried foods, absorbing some of the frying fat, it keeps the product crispy, as well as enhancing the flavor, especially for a milder flavored foods like potatoes or seafood.
                        I like a little salt sprinkled on my hard boiled egg, again as a flavor enhancer.
                        You have to consider the food at hand.
                        I've cut back on my salt use recently, mostly because I'm hypertensive, and I've noticed I've become salt-sensitive, that is, things taste overly salty to me. I've never been in the habit of adding salt to my food at the table, unless it truly warrants it, like someone in the kitchen missed that step. I feel a dish is heightened by adding a judicious amount of salt during the cooking process, rather than at the table.
                        I still absolutely use salt when cooking, always season proteins prior to browning, but don't necessarily add salt to the sauce until the end, and then as a seasoning adjustment. As Caroline1 commented, "For me, it's much easier to figure out what else may be needed to bring up that rich balance of flavors I'm after without salt in the pot." Acids like wine, vinegar or citrus, mustard, herbs, vegetables and spices all work towards this end.
                        Salt is subjective, although there are some rules; I know people that use it as the main flavor in whatever they're eating and others that are completely put off by salt in their food. Then there's the rest of us. ;-)

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          "I've cut back on my salt use recently, mostly because I'm hypertensive, and I've noticed I've become salt-sensitive, that is, things taste overly salty to me"

                          Absolutely. IIRC, it took me about two weeks to adjust to not adding salt to food. Now I easily find things overly salty - fortunately most chefs in the UK use a very light hand with salt these days, so I don't have problems when I eat out (not always the case when I'm travelling abroad)

                  2. For foods cooked in water (grains and potatoes) the salt must go in the water before or with the product for the flavor to reach inside. Putting salt on later won't cut it; it will just lay on the surface. Generally, I'm in the "building flavors brigade". There are exceptions, of course. I wouldn't add salt to onions or mushrooms right away if my goal is to brown them first, but I would season them once they are brown, and of course I season meat that I'm just about to sear.
                    For sauces, stews, chilis, I salt (and pepper) as I go, and adjust seasoning at the end if necessary. For fried foods, salting right after the food leaves the oil is a must.

                    To your cooking club comrade's comment: I've never known salt flavor to "dissipate", but certainly if you add fresh herbs too soon, those flavors will be muted as opposed the result you'd get adding fresh herbs towards the end of cooking.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mcsheridan

                      Agree, I've never experienced the enhanced flavor salt brings out to dissipate. And also agree about the fresh herbs.

                    2. Go with what you were taught, Jen. Does this person not season chicken, pork, beef, etc. before cooking also? If not, well, ugh. Perhaps your cooking club (or just her) could take a one day cooking course at a local restaurant where the chef can expound on the many benefits of properly seasoned food, and when to salt and when not to.

                      Here is an interesting read I found here on Chow. After reading the posts at the end, it appears as though there is support for either approach: http://www.chow.com/stories/11799

                      1. Through my many long years of cooking I have figured out that I can get richer flavors and depth to the seasoning if I don't salt while cooking. And I'm not talking about water to boil pasta. I'm talking about compound dishes ranging from Irish stew to coq au vin. For me, it's much easier to figure out what else may be needed to bring up that rich balance of flavors I'm after without salt in the pot. But during the seasoning stages, I do taste the salt free work under way, and then when I think it's right, I take out a spoonful of sauce and drizzle a few crystals of kosher salt over it and taste again. Salt -- in the right proportion -- gives a round, full flavor to anything, including hot water, so I've found that I get a richer end-product if I salt as the very last step. If at all... There's always salt on the table! '-)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Caroline1

                          Obviously you have salt ON a salad. Other dishes seem to benefit from salt just before biting. There is something to be said for the "hit" of salt coming in direct contact with the tongue (especially if it is coarse salt), or contrast of salt on the surface of the dish. You might taste the salt briefly and then all the other flavors come in behind it.
                          I do it both ways. Sometimes I salt the rice water and add some chicken stock. If it is, as Sam has suggested, a flavorful and spicy dish, plain rice is nice.

                          1. re: Scargod

                            on a caprese salad, maybe, but i do not put salt ON a green salad. it's in my dressing.

                            to the op, your fellow member is incorrect. dissolving is not the same as dissipate.

                            if i am making a soup or stock, i salt at the end. everything else starts with salt. salt in the water for all things starchy, or if am poaching seafood. salt on a protein that i am searing, baking or sauteeing. most times i do not add more salt to the finished dish.

                        2. We are always told that we eat too much salt for our health. I put away the salt shaker decades ago. In baking, I add no more than half the amount called for in the recipe (3/4 in the case of bread, where its presence is not noticeable but its absence makes a bad difference). For boiling pasta, 1/2 tsp per gallon of water is enough to add a flavor boost.
                          I also use a lighter hand with the salt when brining meats. There's ample hidden salt in ingredients and in restaurant foods (even those that aren't noticeably salty). If you are watching your salt intake, it makes sense to salt just before eating, so the salt is the first thing to hit the tongue.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: greygarious

                            the "too much salt" warning derives from all the crappy processed and fast foods people eat. if you eliminate those from your diet ( i don't eat any of that stuff) you can salt your food at home safely.

                            and yes, restaurants use copious amounts of salt AND butter. it's why everything tastes delicious.

                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              What type of restaurants are you talking about? I worked in high end for a number of years and our salt usage was no more or less than necessary to enhance flavor. Perhaps everything tasted delicious because it was, and I stress, properly seasoned.
                              Butter, well, that's another story.

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                i'm a culinary graduate, have been in fine dining nearly 20 years in boston and have worked for 3 james beard award-winning chefs.

                                on average, restaurants use far more salt than do home cooks. i think a big difference is that many home cooks (hounds excepted) still use table salt, which has an acrid overpowering flavor. professional kitchens use kosher salt which blends more seamlessly into dishes.

                                i was in no way inferring the food where i have worked is overly salty.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  "i was in no way inferring the food where i have worked is overly salty."
                                  I certainly wasn't implying that. I'm sure it's not the case. Perhaps it was the word copious I took issue with.
                                  I've also found that by using kosher salt rather than table salt, which I do, I tend to use less.
                                  I also am a culinary grad, worked in CT and NYC for 25 years, just not for james beard award-winning chefs. So, I guess we know of what we speak.

                              2. re: hotoynoodle

                                "if you eliminate those from your diet you can salt your food at home safely."

                                can't you eat fast food occasionally (or restaurant food in general, since you suggest they use copious amounts of salt) but still "safely" use salt at home? or is there some danger involved with using salt at home and eating out as well.

                                1. re: tommy

                                  lol, i'm not a doctor, so i'm not going to prescribe what is a healthy amount of salt or how many big macs you can eat in a week.

                                  my personal suspicion is it's not really the salt that is the problem, but the junky refined carbohydrates it gets poured on. a big mac is 540 calories and 45 grams of carbs; a large bag of fries is 500 calories and 63 grams of carbohydrates; a large coke is 310 cals and 86 grams of carbs. staggering and for many americans that's just lunch. yuk. that's nearly my calorie consumption for the entire day and quadruple what i eat for carbs. oh, and just the big mac and the fries have 60% of the *daily* recommended dose of sodium.

                                  personally, i avoid fast food like the plague, the salt in their foods being the least of my concerns, and i cook from scratch, nothing from a jar or box, which very few home cooks do anymore. it's all the prepared foods, the shortcuts, like rotisserie chickens, marinated meats, the frozen alfredo dinners and jarred spaghetti sauce that are loaded with salts.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    thankfully it hasn't been proven that salt is bad for everyone, and doesn't cause anything bad to happen, so I ignore the recommended daily dose, just as I ignore the recommended temperature to which to cook pork and chicken.

                                    1. re: tommy

                                      like i said, i don't think salt is the devil, we've been eating salt for millions of years. it's the refined carbs, smothered in salt, that do the dirty work.

                                      1. re: tommy

                                        tommy- this is a good point, I think some of the current research indicates that if you're sensitive to salt then yes, you do have to watch your usage. BUT for those that don't have a "salt sensitivity" there's no real set amount that will be considered too much. Anecdotally this seems right to me. For me, salt brings out the flavor of most things (particularly fresh veggies, which I eat a lot of, and salt a ton), so I have a pretty high usage. I also have extremely low blood pressure.

                                        For all of those that like sources- I'm just recalling this info from what I read in Jeffrey Steingarten's book, The Man Who Ate Everything.

                                        Not surprisingly, I salt food at all stages of food prep- leaving some room for the last on the table addition so the food is not too salty for my dining companions.

                              3. I don't use as much salt as most people but if I'm cooking for others, I'll use what others would probably use. I don't salt the cooking water for pasta or grains either however, I do salt some things as they cook depending on what I want them to do.

                                If I'm caramelizing onions or seasoning meats, for example, I'll add salt. I also use some salts for finishing after cooking in which case, I probably won't add any while cooking. I don't keep salt on the table but have to have pepper. For some reason, I never liked things salty; never liked things such as capers, olives, dill or sour pickles, etc.

                                1. Salt doesn't "dissipate" in a dish. It's not gas. If it dissipated none of us would even have a problem with oversalting anything; we could just wait a bit and it would disappear like magic!

                                  1. Do you season with salt as you cook or just at the end?

                                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                    Before, during, and adjust at the end if need be!

                                    1. I season with kosher salt as I cook and then correct the seasoning before service.

                                      1. I've always added salt as I cook. I use sea salt which for me has a whole different taste than the table variety (has a metallic taste). If I do this we're less likely to salt at the table.

                                        1. I season in layers and that includes for S&P. So I'll add a small pinch of salt to the various components, as I go.

                                          As for pasta, unless of course there are dietary restrictions, there is the proverb that pasta, like fish, should "swim in the ocean"...meaning, cook in *generously* salted water (salt added just as water comes to the boil and just before pasta goes in). Pasta will not absorb salt once it comes out of the water. It will just lay on top of it in an unpleasant way. If you want to use salt as an enhancer, rather than an overbearing flavor, the pasta needs to cook in it.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Normandie

                                            i am always amazed by people who do not salt their pasta water and insist their pasta tastes "just fine". blah.

                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              I imagine that those people do think their pasta tastes "just fine." However, if they cooked pasta in adequately salty water, they might revise that conclusion - in other words, they might see that pasta cooked without salt is indeed blah in comparison.

                                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                Please don't be amazed - life is too short for such drama. :-)

                                                Since I stopped cooking with salt years ago, I have eaten pasta cooked in plain water (as I cook it) and in salty water (as cooked by others). I do not find mine "blah", whereas I can find others, erm , salty. But each to their own - if you come for dinner I have no problem with you adding as much salt to your food as you wish

                                          2. Marcella Hazan writes about this, and about smelling the salt as you cook. She's a wonderful writer well beyond just publishing cookbooks.... However, some things you must salt..... water for potatoes and pasta especailly. Meats. Som salt will help veggies stay green when steaming.... You will always want to adjust your seasoning at the end of a dish, but avoiding salt during cooking seems to me like an idea somebody just dreamed up for themselves... I can't imagine cooking and withholding the salt during the process. Except for dried beans, why would you want to do that? BTW, salt DOES NOT DISSIPATE! I know this because i have occassionally over-salted!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: lil magill

                                              I love that story about her telling her husband she can smell the change in the food when it's salted. I always think about it when cooking her recipes (and at other times too). It's true, salt does change the smell of food as it's cooking.