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Feb 20, 2014 12:36 PM

Salt in restaurant food

I’ve noticed a lot of people mention that restaurant food is “too salty”. On one thread in particular about Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new restaurant The Inn at Pound Ridge
several people complained of salty food. I think more and more people are choosing not to add salt to their food for health concerns, especially young people. That creates a problem for chefs. How much salt should I use when preparing food? Salt needs to be added in stages to facilitate flavoring. If you could achieve the same results by leaving it to the customers to salt their food at the table it wouldn’t be a problem. If you don’t use salt on your food most restaurant food will taste salty. What’s a chef to do? Jean-George is a world renowned chef. Although, he may not be cooking much there he is supervising. Many top restaurants do not leave salt shakers on the tables, you are supposed to accept that the chef has a more refined palate than you & he knows best, sort of an educational experience. I never bought that idea. I have a friend with high blood pressure that doesn’t even add salt to pasta cooking water. Naturally, everything tastes salty to him. I once worked for an owner who had the opposite problem, she chained smoked and drank black coffee constantly and couldn’t taste anything unless it was jacked up with salt. I see this as a problem that will only get worse. If you don’t use salt and go to a restaurant are you upset if the food tastes salty to you? Do you think you have a reasonable expectation to be served less salty food?

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  1. I use a modest amount of salt in my cooking. On a recent trip to Boston and NYC, involving numerous restaurant meals (including one at Jean-Georges), I encountered only one meal that I considered seriously over-salted (NOT J-G).

    1. My theory is that a diner can always add more salt, but cannot remove it if there is too much. If a dish is too salty (I use very little salt), for me the dish is ruined and I have wasted my money. I have a reasonable expectation of having the taste of the food shine rather than the taste of the salt overwhelm.

      3 Replies
      1. re: PattiCakes

        Do you frequently find restaurant food salty? If so, what do you do? Send it back?

        1. re: zackly

          I usually find it to be saltier than I would like, but realizing that I am hypersensitive, I don't send back. We do have a place in our office building that has soups at lunch. I have tried them twice, and have found them inedible both times due to heavy salt. Since I am a regular, I may find an opportunity when it's not busy to mention it. I've also found that some ethnic groups seem to prefer saltier food. My son in law is of Mexican heritage, and salts his food like crazy, as does the whole Mexican side of his family. Fortunately for me, however, they seem to do it at the table and not so much in the preparation.

          1. re: PattiCakes

            I think this is going to be a growing issue in food service as more and more people look to decrease their intake of salt. As a (retired) chef however, it's a problem because when I was cooking professionally I added enough salt until I reached that aha moment when I thought the dish was perfect. If I was cooking now I'd have to consciously cut back on the salt and serve food where the flavor wasn't optimized to my taste.

      2. I under-salt - I always watch people reaching for the salt LOL - I really never add salt beyond what is called for in a recipe and since I usually cook without recipe I usually cook without added salt. I also almost never add salt to my own plate at the table.

        I don't generally find restaurant food to be too salty

        OTOH prepared/packaged foods almost always taste way too salty for me.

        2 Replies
        1. re: JTPhilly

          <I also almost never add salt to my own plate at the table.>

          Same here. I rarely ever reach for the salt shaker. Prepared and packaged foods are almost always too salty for me as well.

          1. re: JTPhilly

            Same here re: never adding salt to restaurant food. I also know that I under salt when I cook, so I tend to offer up the salt shaker to guests so they don't worry about offending me by asking. And while I don't often consciously think that restaurant food is too salty while I'm eating it, the parched mouth that I wake up with in the middle of the night tells me that a restaurant meal was indeed a lot saltier than I'm used to.

          2. Something else to take into consideration is salt being used not only as flavoring but for other reasons - like salting vegetables to remove moisture, brining meat for tenderness, etc.

            Personally I have a wicked salt-tooth and can't usually get enough salt, but the first (and last) time I ate at a Jeff Ruby steakhouse, every dish there was a salt bomb. If I was unused to salt, it would have been inedible to me.

            1 Reply
            1. re: NonnieMuss

              I'm almost 64 and my taste buds are going south. I find myself using more salt to enjoy my food. Like you, I've always had a wicked salt-tooth anyway so I have to be careful when I'm' cooking for others and under salt everything.

            2. I use almost no added salt in my own cooking, which is not to say that the results are very low sodium. Ingredients like soy sauce, celery, and cheese preclude that. I do not buy the claim that food needs to be salted early in the cooking process. Breadmaking? Yes. A steak or burger? No. Since these are not very thick pieces of meat, once you chew a bite that has had a sprinkle of salt at the table, you'll perceive the entire mouthful as salted. In contrast, some foods that are cooked using salty ingredients, or with salt added early in cooking, don't taste as salty as they are. A friend who took Indian cooking classes was surprised at how much salt is involved, because the complex seasoning does not come off as salty. I wasn't, since I have cankles within hours of having an Indian meal.

              If books like Kitchen Confidential are to be believed, most cooks smoke, and that decreases their sense of taste enough that they tend to oversalt while cooking. I do believe restaurants should undersalt their food, for the sake of their patrons' health. They should, however, have salt shakers on the table for those who want more. Of all restaurant items, deep-fried foods are a bugaboo of mine. There's no good reason for default policy to be to salt the whole batch as soon as it's dumped out of the fryalator basket. It should be going straight to the customer, who can add salt if s/he wishes. At the risk of sounding hypocritical to refer to health and fried foods in the same paragraph, I am a person who never fries at home and limits fried food to a couple of restaurant meals a year.

              2 Replies
              1. re: greygarious

                The salt sticks best to the fried food when done immediately - otherwise it falls off and isn't easy to get salted!

                1. re: greygarious

                  Kitchen Confidential was written in the last century ;-) like the rest of the population it's not a given that chefs smoke or worse anymore. It's much more of a serious career now.

                  Had to get that off my chest.