Salt in Things, Not on Things

Have you ever eaten at a restaurant and wondered, “How did they get it to taste like this?” Eating out can make a home cook feel insecure, like your cooking never quite measures up. Some of the reasons are probably technical, some have to do with experience. But one major reason is totally under your control: salt. Salt is a hugely important part of cooking and it almost never gets its due in cookbooks or TV shows. Chef Alex Young, founder of Zingerman’s Roadhouse and James Beard Award winner puts it well: “Next to time and temperature, salt is the most important part of cooking.”

My advice on salting is the same as Al Capone’s thoughts on voting: salt early and salt often. Restaurant cooks don’t just salt more than we do at home. They salt at more times in the process. One simple way to improve your home cooking is to salt more frequently. Salt as you go. Salt your marinade. Salt your onions when they’re cooking. Salt any liquid you add. Salt your dish as its cooking. Taste as you go and you will see how the salt changes the dish. You shouldn’t need to salt at the table. If you start delivering dishes to dinner without a salt shaker you’ll know you’re on the right track. In the end you’ll use less salt and gain more flavor by taking this approach.

Going even deeper, think about adding ingredients that bring their own salt to the party. They will add salt in a more subtle, engaging way. Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano are two cheeses that add saltiness to dishes. Marash peppers are sun dried, seeded, chopped into flakes, then salted a bit. In fact, most sun-dried foods have cozied up to salt at some point in time so they make great salt additions. I’m also a huge fan of adding anchovies to the start of a dish. All anchovies are cured in salt, whether they’re packed in salt or olive oil (one exception is vinegar-packed boquerones). A chopped anchovy fillet will melt into a skillet in just a few minutes and the deep sea-toned flavor will subtly flavor the dish all the way to the end.