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Oct 18, 2009 09:16 AM

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


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.



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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

                      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.