How to “Season to Taste”

by valentina on December 3, 2012

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Sometimes I give you specific measurements for salt and pepper (in salad dressings, all baked goods, etc.).  Though more often I say, “season to taste.”

I assume some of you are comfortable with that phrase.  However, there might be a handful of you who desperately wish the recipe would give you  an exact measurement because you don’t know what to do.

I’m here to help.

Often recipe developers don’t want to commit you to a certain measurement of salt and pepper.  And there’s a reason for that.

When I write recipes, I always consider that even though we have the same ingredient list and instructions, your tomatoes might be sweeter than mine, your pan might have a heavier bottom, and the flame on your stove might be stronger.  These are just a few things that will factor into the final taste of a recipe — and how much you’ll need to season it.

Before we proceed, it’s imperative to know what you want the salt to achieve when it’s added to a recipe.

You are not trying to make anything taste salty!  Salt is meant to bring out the natural flavors of foods.  For example, when you sprinkle the right amount of salt on a plain avocado — the flavor of the avocado is heightened.  And likewise, when you add salt to a complex recipe that contains several ingredients, the salt brightens the flavor of each one — so you can taste them individually even though they are all mixed together.  When used correctly, salt will make food taste more like itself — not salty!  Get it?

In addition to salt, most recipes are also seasoned with black pepper.  While I usually “season to taste with salt and pepper,” it’s more of a spice to me — and one that should be used gingerly.

So what do you do when you get to the part of the recipe that says to “season to taste?”

For the sake of our discussion, imagine a soup.  Say for instance, you’re ready to season this Spicy Kale Soup with Roasted Pepper and Tomato:

  • Taste the soup. Can you taste a bit of sweetness from the sun-dried tomatoes?  What about the smoky flavor from the roasted peppers and smoked paprika?  The heat from the cayenne? Or the peppery kick from the fresh kale?
  • Add a small amount of salt and pepper and taste the soup again.  The aforementioned flavors are likely more pronounced now.
  • Always add very small amounts at a time because the last thing you want to do is over-season!
  • Repeat this tasting process until you can taste the individual ingredients.
  • After my first couple of tastes, I’m typically done adding pepper, but not the salt.
  • Stop when you like it!  This is about your palate, my friends!

The more time you spend in the kitchen, as you become a more seasoned cook, you just get a feel for this.  When a recipe is seasoned to taste, it’s seasoned with enough salt and pepper, for your taste!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Colette @ JFF! December 3, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Good lesson. Not everyone has the same taste!

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Nancy Rose Eisman December 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Excellent explanation that will really help everyone be better in the kitchen. Thanks!

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Quyen - KitchenRunway December 10, 2012 at 3:32 am

:) glad you touched on this point… everyone’s palate is so different.

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