“Seasoning to taste,” as it’s often called, is one of the most useful things you can know how to do in the kitchen. It’s also one of the simplest — getting your food to taste great, or to be “well seasoned,” is really just a matter of taking the time to taste your food before you serve it. It’s also a matter of trusting your own judgment — the way something is “supposed to taste” is really however you like it.
The Basic Elements of Seasoning
- Salt brings out the flavors of food. Not enough salt, and your food may taste bland. Of course, if you add too much salt, then salt is probably all you’re going to taste. Especially before you’ve gotten the hang of seasoning your food, it’s important to be patient — add a little salt at a time, tasting after each addition until you like how your food tastes.
- We like to use sea salt, but kosher salt is a good alternative.
- When used in moderation, pepper provides food with just the right amount of kick without being especially noticeable. When you use a lot of pepper, however, it will give your food a distinctly peppery flavor, which some people love, but others find too strong or “spicy.” The proper amount of pepper to use is really a matter of personal taste, whether you choose to load it on, use just enough, or leave it out altogether.
- We always use freshly ground black pepper in our cooking. (It’s much more flavorful than the pre-ground stuff.) Red pepper flakes (aka “hot red pepper flakes” or “crushed red pepper”) are also fantastic.
- Sometimes, even if your food has enough salt and pepper on it, it will still seem like it’s missing something. That something is usually acidity, which can really help round out the flavors of your food.
- Common sources of acidity are vinegars and citrus fruits. (Lemon, lime, orange, etc. Always try to use freshly squeezed citrus juices.)
- Adding acidity is as easy as giving your food a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar. Especially when using vinegar, which can have a potent flavor, be sure to add only a little at a time, tasting after each addition, so you won’t make your food overwhelmingly acidic.
How to do it
- Whenever possible, before adding salt, pepper, lemon juice, vinegar, or any other seasonings to your food, taste your food and assess what it needs.
- If your food seems a little bland, add salt. If it needs a bit of a kick, add pepper. If it could use some acidity, add lemon juice or vinegar.
- Add just a little bit of each seasoning at a time. Toss or stir your food together (if necessary), and then taste your food again.
- Repeat this process until you’re happy with how your food tastes. (If it tastes great, you’re done!)
Don’t double dip — when sampling you food with a spoon or fork, be sure to use a clean spoon or fork for every taste.
When cooking on a stovetop, making a dressing, or mixing something in a bowl, it’s easy to “taste as you go.” When cooking food in the oven, however, it’s not that simple, as you usually have to season your food before you cook it. Remember, though, that you can always taste your food as soon as it’s done cooking (just be careful—it’s probably hot) and, if necessary, add more salt, pepper, etc. at that point.
Some people are on restricted diets, for which they have to limit their sodium (salt) or other intakes. Note that most recipes will still work if you omit the salt, pepper, or other seasonings.