Seasoning to taste is the process of tasting and adjusting the seasonings to your taste. Not only that, it's also about bringing out and intensifying the natural flavors of foods.
I assume some of you are comfortable with that phrase. However, there might be some who desperately wish the recipe would give you exact measurements because you don't know what to do.
Often recipe developers don't want to commit you to a certain measurement of salt and pepper. There's a reason for that, and it's important in learning how to season to taste.
When writing recipes, I 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 so many things that can factor into the final taste of a recipe -- and how much you'll need to season it.
What do we Want Seasoning to Taste to Achieve?
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 an avocado -- the flavor of the avocado is heightened.
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're combined.
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," pepper is more of a spice -- one that should be used gingerly.
How 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 (pictured above):
- 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? Heat from the cayenne? Or the peppery kick from the kale?
- Add a small amount of salt and pepper and taste the soup again. Is it sweeter? Smokier? Richer? Can you can taste the individual ingredients?
- Keep adding a tiny amount of salt and/or pepper at a time, until it's adjusted to how you like it.
The more time you spend in the kitchen, as you become a more seasoned cook, you just get a feel for this. (Pun intended. ;-))
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