Before we dive into seasoning with salt, a quick nutritional word on the seasoning: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming no more than about 2,300 milligrams of sodium—an element found in salt—per day. That's about one teaspoon of salt. "A high daily sodium intake can exacerbate certain medical conditions, it can contribute to fluid retention, and it can lead to high blood pressure. All of these can, in turn, lead to a slew of other health issues, like heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease," Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN, previously told Well+Good.
- Christopher Arturo, chef-instructor of Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education
The problem? It's not particularly easy to control your salt intake given that processed and convenience food items—like frozen meals and soups—are overwhelmingly responsible for much of the salt found in the American diet. That's why cooking at home (when you can, of course) is a great opportunity to use salt sparingly and unlock the flavor superpowers of other seasonings like cumin, garlic powder, pepper, and more.
All that said, Arturo has some hot tips for making sure that when you do cook with salt, you unlock its full potential. "I prefer kosher salt when cooking. I like the size of the grains and you don’t have to add too much to get a good result," says Arturo. FWIW, kosher salt contains slightly less sodium than table salt or sea salt by volume. So go ahead: Grab your kosher salt and give these chef-approved tips a read before you start cooking.
How to salt your food perfectly every time, according to a chef
1. Make a salting plan ahead of time
Okay, I know what you're thinking: A salting plan seems a bit over the top. But according to Arturo, making a game plan ahead of time is the easiest way to nail your dish's seasoning. "Think about the item you’re cooking and the cooking process to determine how and when to season with salt," says Arturo. For example, if you're cooking a thick steak, salting the braising liquid before your start cooking will make it too salty once the liquid is reduced. On the other hand, if you're making, say, a veggie stir-fry, you can likely season the dish at the beginning of the cooking process without much worry that your veggies will become too salty later on.
2. Add salt in small layers throughout the cooking process
"You can always add salt, but you can never take it away," says Arturo. To make sure you don't over-salt your delicious dinner at one fell swoop, Arturo recommends adding salt slowly and minimally throughout the process so that you can taste and adjust as you go.
3. Ask yourself if your dish really needs salt or if it needs another flavor
We tend to think of salt as the easiest way to upgrade the tastiness of our pasta, soups, and curries, but Arturo's a big fan of challenging that compulsion as he cooks. "One trick to know if you need more salt, is to add a little acid—like vinegar or lemon juice—to change the way your tongue reacts to salt. This can alter the way the dish tastes, for example it could make it taste brighter so it doesn’t need more salt," he says.
4. Save over-salted dishes with fats
"If you over-salt, you can try to round the dish’s flavor by adding fat—like cream or butter—to change the way you taste the salt," says Arturo. Talk about a pro tip.
5. Leave room for people's personal preferences
Try as you might, you can't possibly salt every dish in a way that will please everyone's palettes. (*Deep sigh*) That's why Arturo recommends under-salting, and leaving the final seasoning decisions up to your dinner guests. You could, for example, add table salt and pepper to the table, or parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. That way, everyone gets to enjoy their food the way they want to. Easy, peasy.
Test out your new salting skills with this vegan Italian meatball soup:
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