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Jan 5, 2010 02:32 PM

What is one tip that you learned about cooking that was simple but made a huge difference? [old]

I read many years ago to mash your potatoes with nothing in them first (that way you can see how 'wet' they are), then add the butter, then add WARM milk. Probably many already knew this but this tip read probably over 10 years ago has made my mashed potatoes always fantastic!! Prior to this I would put in the butter, slosh in some cold milk and mash away-I wondered why they were always gluey and either runny or stiff.

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  1. Kosher salt, in a dish, by the stove. TASTE and season as you go.

    My cooking has never been the same since... in a good way, of course. :)

    83 Replies
    1. re: LauraGrace

      I learned this one the hard way. Sounds intuitive, but I didn't know about it until I ruined a pork roast in the brining.

      Salt equivalent ratios:

      Table Salt 1 TBSP
      Morton Kosher Salt 1-1/2 TBSP
      Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt 2 TBSP

      I cribbed this from

      1. re: southernexpat

        Thank you for this. I have been looking for a definitive breakdown for a while and couldn't find one.

      2. re: LauraGrace

        I totally agree with you LauraGrace about the Kosher salt! I can hardly bring myself to use regular salt when we're out. We use only Kosher salt at home to cook with and to season our food when eating. It makes such a difference! The saltiness tastes "clean" as opposed to "chemical".

        1. re: schmoopy

          I switched to sea salt a few months ago and literally can't stand regular salt anymore.

          1. re: MandalayVA

            I like sea salt too , I have several different ones .

            1. re: LadyCook61

              another vote for sea salt.. I keep mine in a grinder and grind what I need.

              1. re: grnidkjun

                I agree about sea salt. I have several including truffled salt which is heaven as a finishing salt. I also use Kosher salt when I want that crustiness. But why has no one mentioned Maldon flaked sea salt? The large thin flakes give great texture without over salting.

                1. re: Quill

                  I love Maldon as a finishing salt. The crystals are beautiful, thin, and add wonderful texture...very addictive.

                2. re: grnidkjun

                  I have mine in a grinder, too. I used kosher for salting water, but use sea salt to season dishes.

              2. re: MandalayVA

                Absolutely. After changing to sea salt, the very idea of using regular table salt is distasteful to me. All those flowing agents, desiccants, etc. impart an unpleasant chemical taste that I was only too happy to bid farewell upon switching.

                1. re: MandalayVA

                  I keep a porcelain coated 'tin' next to the stove filled with sea salt. I only use 'regular' salt to soak/rinse brassica's I harvest from the garden......and sometimes scrub pots with it.

                2. re: schmoopy

                  U know it is interesting.

                  America's test kitchen tested all kinds of salt and found that except for finishing salt on steaks and such at the table, they couldn't taste any difference in kosher or sea salt or table salt or even leslies iodized salt in cooking.

                  Their own chefs were surprised. Most of them were swearing that a blind taste test would reveal that kosher or sea salt would be far superior.

                  1. re: tonka11_99

                    Hi Tonka! Just saw your post. That IS interesting. You said that "except for finishing salt on steaks and such at the table, they couldn't taste any difference..." If I understand you correctly, you're saying that the tasters couldn't taste any difference in the salts when they're used in cooking, rather than as a finishing, right? Well, I do agree with that. I don't notice a difference when I'm cooking or baking something. But I do notice a difference when it's sprinkled on top of something that's already cooked and/or I'm just seasoning to taste at the time of eating (like freshly sliced homegrown tomatoes or a soft-boiled egg). At least, I think I do... :o)

                    1. re: tonka11_99

                      THAT I find hard to believe. I doubt I could taste the difference between kosher and sea salt, but table salt with all the additives that it has? Certainly I could tell the difference. Upon realizing how much better sea salt is and having switched over, I've since found table salt with its flowing agents and what not to be a bit repulsive in flavour.

                      1. re: vorpal

                        what are "**all** the additives" of table salt? an anticaking agent and --- sometimes -- iodine?

                      2. re: tonka11_99

                        hmmm... America's Test Kitchen cooks couldn't taste the difference? Did they all have head colds that day? One of the things I do with every new housekeeper who may cook something once in a while is give her a lesson in salt. First tasting: Sea salt. Mild. Second tasting: Kosher salt. A bit stronger but still mellow. Final tasting: table salt. Without fail, it ALWAYS brings a grimace and a sense of revulsion. So much for America's Test Kitchen. Don't do tastings when you have a cold! '-)

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          The test of salt was in cooked food and baked goods, not tasting salt on its own.
                          They're basic point was you can use regular kosher salt to add to a kettle of pasta water and save the Fleur De Sel for sprinkling on top of finished food.

                          edit: I saw one of your other recent posts on another thread. I too welcome you back to the boards.

                    2. re: LauraGrace

                      I don't get the salt-in-a-dish, salt-in-a-box on the stove thing-- seems my hand/hands are invariably either wet or have food on them when I'm cooking. I don't want to put that into a dry dish of salt and contaminate the whole dish. It's much easier to clean a shaker than throw out salt that's been moistened. Also, a shaker gives more control. It looks cool when a chef reaches over and takes an expert 5 finger pinch of salt, but I know it's then sprinkled all over the stove too, not just on the food. Am I approaching this all wrong?

                      1. re: blue room

                        I pour a little salt from the stove-side container into my hand and then "pinch" to my heart's content. And I guess I have better control than those chefs - my stay inside the dish :)

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Actually, there's a reason why professional chefs end up with salt all over their stove. They salt from "up high". If you've ever watch iron chef or any other show with 3-star chefs cooking, you'll notice the height at with they are salting. It's not "showboating" like the waiters who try and pour your water from above your head at TJI Chilibees...

                          When you salt from up high, the salt disperses more when it hits whatever you are salting than if you were to salt down low. Therefore you can salt once and have salted the whole dish as opposed to salting lower and sprinkling it all around the skillet.

                          Try it out sometime. Take a pinch of salt and salt the countertop the way you would normally. Then take the same amount of salt and salt the tabletop from a height a little above your head. The salt will bounce everywhere...which is gonna be annoying for the clean-up but should demonstrate my point. It's actually kinda fun.

                          That's what happens in your skillet when salting in this manner, a more even dispersing of salt. Less stirring...that sort of thing. Hopefully that makes sense and sheds some light as to why chefs have such salty stoves. :-)

                          1. re: YourBestFriend

                            I take the salt between my fingers and kinda rub them together and get a complete distribution. Don't do it "up high." Whatever works for you.

                            1. re: YourBestFriend

                              Up high thing ... good to know.... I always do it from up high but it's just so I can see how many crystals are coming out.... either from the shaker or my pinching. I love to do the pinching thing with coarse salt, beit kosher or sea, because I feel so "food network." I really can't taste the difference. And btw... I like cracked black, but I usually put both ground and cracked in a recipe. Ground flavors the dish, cracked gives you that little something extra when you thought you'd already swallowed everything :D

                          2. re: blue room

                            You miss the pan when you pinch salt? Wow. Unless you're "showboating" like Rocco, there's no mess.
                            I really differ with your opinion that a shaker gives more control.
                            Do you use kosher salt?

                            1. re: monavano

                              I feel that I have more control when I pinch kosher or sea salt instead of using a shaker or the box the salt came in from the store. With the shaker, it takes too long and with the box, sometimes a little comes out and sometimes a lot. I don't have near the issues of under or over seasoning using the pinches and I don't have problems of strewing it all over from dish to pot either.

                              1. re: alliedawn_98

                                I was given this awesome salt cellar for Christmas this past year. Yeah, it sounds like a pretty underwhelming gift, but it is so handy, and it looks cute! I can just reach in, grab a pinch of my kosher salt, and season away :)

                                1. re: kubasd

                                  That's a Le creuset salt cellar, isn't it? Always wanted one.

                              2. re: monavano

                                If I have a bunch of salt held between 2, 3, 4, or all 5 fingers it's gonna lose a few grains between saltbox and pan. If my hand is wet or oily or bloody or juicy or sticky, the salt now has stuff or moisture in it. If the salt (any kind/size, grains or flakes) is in a shaker it's clean, dry and secure. I do agree the shaker holes must be the right size. Of course this is no big deal, I just tried it (cute new salt box) and abandoned it almost immediately and thought "Huh?"

                                1. re: blue room

                                  Unless you're shaking the salt into a pot of boiling water and the steam clogs the holes.

                                  1. re: southernitalian

                                    I have a *salt pig* that came with a small, porcelain spoon. No need to stick wet fingers into the holder. I use a small ramekin for coarse-ground black pepper, and in it I use a small sterling spoon I purchased long ago at an antiques shop. They were used for salt dip bowls placed at individual place settings at the dinner table around the turn of the century. I keep these, and other salts and peppers, on the countertop near my range top. Works well for me.

                                    1. re: pilotgirl210

                                      Your little silver spoon was for what called a 'salt cellar' which is used at the table. A salt pig is more commonly used by the cook. I found a pair of crystal salt cellars with silver spoons and gave them to my mother. She really liked stuff like that.

                                      1. re: John E.

                                        When I was a kid (during the 60s) dinners in our household were late and quite formal- everyone dressed for dinner, jackets & ties for the men, dresses for the ladies. At 7:45 there was the ceremonial lighting of the candles, carving began at the sideboard, wine which had been breathing was first tasted, then poured, and dinner was on the table at eight sharp. Everything in the dining room was old (except the gigantic sailfish on one wall)- tapestries, curtains, 18th century chairs. The massive main table was 400 years old and battle-scarred. Not metaphorically, literally.

                                        Anyway, my folks had some beautiful antique Austrian pewter, candelabras, platters, water pitchers, and my favorite, a set of 3-inch salt cellars in the form of Viking longships, which seemed to be sailing silently across the table, bound for distant adventures. Will never forget those.

                                        1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                          Holy smokes, did you grow up with old money in Europe or New England or somewhere similar? I grew up in a ranch house in a snall farming community in rural Minnesota.

                                          1. re: John E.

                                            You read my mind John. Our diners were always informal. Only requirement was hands and face must be washed and clean clothes. Christmas was a little more formal with table linen etc. I don' think I ever remember my father wearing a suit to the dinner table unless he was not eating because my parents were going out to a dinner dance/banquet etc. We always ate as a family and had to be asked to be excused. I have to admit unless someone had to be somewhere (work, soccer practice etc.) we still ate together. We still eat as a family, wait until everyone is finished and the kids always ask to be excused. Something that seems to have been lost over time which is shame because dinner time is when you really find out what is going on with your kids. No distractions except for the food!

                                            1. re: 02putt

                                              It appears we grew up in separate families together.

                                          2. re: eclecticsynergy

                                            Wow- I thought that only happened in movies. You've painted quite a picture.

                                            1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                              Wonderfull! Now I want those Viking salt cellars too!

                                  2. re: blue room

                                    i think a shaker gives far less control

                                    1. re: thew

                                      I guess I'm pretty used to my shakers, can use them deftly, but I know what you mean. And for bigger amounts, like the initial salting in a recipe, of course I use measuring spoons.

                                    2. re: blue room

                                      I agree. I even bought a cute little bamboo salt box, and you know what? My manicure is not conducive to this. My hands are always wet, and under my nails remains wet even after drying my hands. I ended up wasting quite a bit of French gray sea salt during one meal, and found myself worrying about adding moisture to the saltbox. Nope, I use the pour spout right on the box of sea salt into the palm of my hand to eyeball it.

                                      1. re: blue room

                                        My sea salt is in a grinder - very easy to use even with wet hands.

                                        1. re: small h

                                          This is what I do, too. But it annoys me when steam clogs up the grinder.

                                          1. re: ChristinaMason

                                            Grind the salt into your palm, away from the pot, then throw it in.

                                            1. re: small h

                                              Unless you've got a one-handed grinder, or a third arm, this is going
                                              to be hard to accomplish.

                                                1. re: kattyeyes

                                                  I cup my left palm under the bottom of the grinder, and grip the stem my fingers. Then I twist the top with my right hand. It is not a difficult process (if it were, I probably couldn't do it).

                                                  1. re: small h

                                                    You are correct. Sorry for being a wise@$$! It's just as easy as you say. Who knew? :)

                                                    1. re: kattyeyes

                                                      Awesome! So the score is now...

                                                      useful cooking tips small h has learned on Chowhound: 437 (estimated)
                                                      useful cooking tips small h has provided on Chowhound: 1 (exact)

                                                      Equilibrium approaches.

                                                      1. re: small h

                                                        I keep a shot glass of Kosher salt near the stove top and use a tiny spoon (~1/3 tsp.) to transfer it into my palm before pinching and sprinkling. No messy fingers in the salt box and better control than a shaker.

                                                        1. re: Chadsharply

                                                          Why wouldn't you just grab it straight out of the shot glass?

                                                          1. re: Chadsharply

                                                            That sounds like a good method for someone less clumsy than me. I would knock over the shot glass at least once a day.

                                                            1. re: Chadsharply

                                                              I use a kinda of squat (cause I made it myself) egg cup. Similar to using a shot glass.

                                              1. re: blue room

                                                Totally agree blue room! I never could understand contaminating a whole dish of salt either. Old fashioned me just uses a shaker.

                                                1. re: riversuzyq

                                                  You and Blue Room have both mentioned contaminating a dish of salt. BR also mentioned it's easier to clean a shaker than to throw out contaminated salt. I think both of you may have overlooked that it is easier to wipe your hands than to either clean a shaker or throw out contaminated salt. After all, our hands are not messy during the entire cooking process are they? I look at it as the need to season food while cooking is a good excuse to clean some cooking utensils and my hands too and to then season the food.

                                                  1. re: John E.

                                                    Not only that, but salt is an incredible "antiseptic" and your chance of "contaminating" a pig of salt by reaching in and grabbing a pinch or two is practiaclly non-existant! Which is not to say you can't stain the salt if your hands are dripping in tomato paste or whatever. As you say, John, wipe your hands! Salt is also a dessicant and a preservative, so give up hope of "contaminating" it.

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      Thanks for that info - I have been throwing away what's left of the salt in my pinch bowl after cooking...

                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        When I am going to season a big roast, chicken, turkey, anything big I take a small bowl (actually one of those small ss condiment cups) and mix the salt and pepper, sometimes including garlic granules, and use that to season the meat. That way I don't worry about cross contamination or getting meat-juicy hands on my pepper mill or the garlic powder jar. Next to our stove we have one of those salt cellars with lid that Alton Brown always used on his show.

                                              2. re: LauraGrace

                                                Tasting as you go is the #1 thing for me too, and I realize that most home cooks don't do it. So simple, but so important.

                                                1. re: BigE

                                                  Strangely I've heard marcella hazan say she doesn't taste so much as she cooks - she smells!

                                                  1. re: djdownie

                                                    I wonder how she can smell if her food is salted enough;-)

                                                    1. re: steamer

                                                      She says the food smells different to her after the salt is added (that she told her husband that and he scoffed at her but found out she was right). Try it, you really can. As to whether salted enough, I imagine she relies on the oldfashioned way.

                                                      1. re: buttertart

                                                        i'm going to see if i can smell the salt.

                                                        (didn't i hear that hazan and her husband had a mildly svengali (?) kind of relationship -- or something that was a little odd or controlling?).

                                                        anyhow, this was interesting: """She was educated as a biochemist and spent her early career in dental research."""

                                                        and it is odd to learn that she smokes, and follows her teaching dinners with jack daniels!

                                                        ah, here's some idea:
                                                        >>>"""""You thought literature was all that mattered," teases Hazan, who likes to spar verbally with her husband. The son of a Jewish father who left Italy before World War II to come to New York City to start a furrier business, Victor met Hazan after returning to Italy, his birthplace, in 1952. Introduced by his cousin, Victor and Hazan fell for each other immediately. "Marcella was very beautiful, very dynamic," he says. "She was very sweet," he adds, smiling, "unlike now!""""<<<

                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                          While I cannot really 'smell' salt for practical purposes in my own cooking, I agree that it is possible to smell salt. There was one time I was going down for breakfast at my Aunt's house and could distinctly smell that the eggs being fried had a lot of salt in them. I mentioned this to my friend who was going down with me and she agreed: the eggs were too salty. My cousin who was in the kitchen at the time asked me how I knew. She couldn't smell anything.

                                                          1. re: marimorimo

                                                            well, i can smell salt air at the ocean, but not on salty eggs. do you find yourself "super-smelling" other things, too?

                                                        2. re: buttertart

                                                          I agree, I can smell salt in some dishes that are cooking, as well. Smell, after all, is a very important component in our ability to taste.

                                                  2. re: LauraGrace

                                                    What do Americans mean by Kosher salt? Do you mean sea salt crystals? How can salt be kosher?

                                                    1. re: cathodetube

                                                      it's a larger crystaled salt. it's coarse texture makes it stick to meat well, so it is ideal for drawing the blood out of meat, ie for koshering. it isn;t really kosher salt , it is koshering salt

                                                      1. re: thew

                                                        Diamond Brand kosher salt. It is the salt used in most good kitchens. The texture is unique to that brand, you cannot substitute equal volumes of any other type of salt. Give it a try!

                                                        1. re: jeffdchef

                                                          is diamond brand appreciably better than morton's kosher salt?

                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                            Chefs do ask for it by name. Never tested side by side myself.

                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                              what matters is consistency - and they both have different weight to volume ratios - both are about th same quality, but one would want to use the same brand consistently so as to maintain the same flavor

                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                From what I understand, Diamond Crystal doesn't have any anti-caking agents in it, and Morton's does.

                                                          2. re: thew

                                                            Well, actually, it is a kosher product as well as being used to Kasher something else too - meat. But to be "kosher salt" it has to be just salt produced in accordance with kashrut laws which, most salt already is. I've seen kosher salt with both fine and coarse crystals. Kosher salt, coars or fine will not have any addatives. iodine, and is typcially plain salt without any clumping agents, much like pickling salt but with a different grind. Pickling salt is ground extremely fine so it dissolves well in liquids of any temp. You can use either if you are making up a batch of true saline solution for medical wash purposes. Additives are painful in a saline solution.

                                                            I can't find Diamond Brand so I just use Morton's Kosher for stoveside seasoning and pure clean salt flavor, regular old table for baking, and fancy sea salts for the table or when plating a specific dish with a specific salt, I don't get too crazy about the salt varietals, the finer details are usually lost on me.

                                                            1. re: aggiecat

                                                              so you're saying (in part) that morton's kosher does *not* have anti-caking agent (which is typically sodium aluminosilicate)?

                                                              1. re: alkapal

                                                                Michael Ruhlman (an Expert in Residence on Chow a few months ago) is a pretty knowledgeable guy. He buys Morton's, which has additives, because that's what's available in his local store, but would buy Diamond Crystal if it were conveniently available since it has no additives. Seems like a practical approach.

                                                                Diamond Crystal is readily available near me, so that's what I get.


                                                                1. re: bear

                                                                  morton's anti-caking agent is yellow prussiate of soda. i just looked at the box in my cabinet.

                                                                  1. re: bear

                                                                    Yes, Diamond Crystal is salt and only salt and it indeed does cake after awhile, but caking is not a big issue.

                                                                  2. re: alkapal

                                                                    I believe Diamond Crystal is also formed in a crystal shape, like a snow flake so it melts more readily than Morton's which is more of a cube type shape. Although all I've ever used is Morton's as thats what's available to me.

                                                              2. re: cathodetube

                                                                You might find this thread informative:


                                                                Kosher salt does not have iodine added to, unlike our "regular" table salt.

                                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                                  You can get table salt with or without iodine, for about the same price. I get it with, because I'm not too keen on getting goitre. (Though I probably eat enough dairy and seafood not to have to worry about that.)

                                                                2. re: cathodetube

                                                                  It's big hollow crystals . . . doesn't stick to the fingers as much as other salts do, Cathodetube. If your recipe calls for kosher salt remember to add less of regular grained sea salt. But you probably knew that.

                                                                  I still love my various sea salts but sometimes I just need the kosher, so mine is always at the fingertips too.

                                                                3. re: LauraGrace

                                                                  Yes, I learned to use kosher salt working in a restaurant and haven't looked back.

                                                                4. Never use a dull knife.
                                                                  Always preheat an oven.
                                                                  Al dente pasta is the only way to go.
                                                                  Use room temp eggs.
                                                                  A separate freezer is a home cooks best friend.

                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                  1. re: HillJ

                                                                    Regarding the use of room temp eggs: because they separate more easily when cold, if they need to be separated I do that right out of the fridge, cover them, and then let them come to room temp. They also come to room temp more quickly that way.

                                                                    1. re: JoanN

                                                                      Good tip, JoanN. This time of year in NJ I can keep fresh eggs the desired temp but placing them in a basket in the porch just off the kitchen. I'm going to try the towel method.

                                                                    2. re: HillJ

                                                                      I don't get the al dente pasta thing.... who wants hard "raw" pasta sticking in their teeth? About as appetizing as under cooked rice. Or am I missing something?

                                                                      1. re: honey2emmylace

                                                                        Well, if the pasta is hard & raw, it's not al dente. Al dente means that it's still got a little bit of bite to it, and is not cooked to a slippery mush. If it tastes raw or hard, it's not done.

                                                                        1. re: linguafood

                                                                          honey2emmylace: Maybe the problem is that you are using cheap supermarket brands of pasta. In my experience, those go from "hard" and "raw" to flaccid in a millisecond. De Cecco (and Barilla to a slightly lesser extent) costs more, but you can get it to a perfect al dente condition.

                                                                          1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                                                            I would also suggest that another reason for al dente is that most pasta is then finished in a sauce and most likely in a pan and will cook to hopeful perfection. Perhaps most suggested recipes figure that "saucing" will happen......what do I know, I just like to eat. :)

                                                                    3. Grilling steaks

                                                                      The thiner the steak the hotter the fire not the other way...


                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: don515

                                                                        Put a thin (3/8” to 1/2") steak in the freezer for 15 minutes or so before cooking will allow you to get a nice sear on the outside without overcooking the middle.

                                                                          1. re: TomDel

                                                                            Now that's a clever idea! Supermarket meat is cut stupidly thin here in Australia, but that might just be a way of making it edible.

                                                                        1. Slow roast at a low temperature for beef, pork and turkey whenever possible.

                                                                          1. The longer the rise for bread, the better.

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                              Really? I used to assume that, but recently I've read that over-proofing can adversely affect the texture.

                                                                              1. re: sonia darrow

                                                                                The poster may mean "the slower the rise," although with cold proofing, it does take "longer."

                                                                                1. re: sonia darrow

                                                                                  Chowser doesn't mean over-proofing, Sonia. He means letting it take longer to rise the volume it's supposed to. Usually by putting it somewhere cool as Bushwickgirl alludes to. I would add to that that multiple rises make for better bread too.

                                                                                  1. re: cinnamon girl

                                                                                    Ditto. A slower, longer rise results in a better tasting bread.