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weinoo

The (Over) Use of Salt

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I have no doubt that I love salt. From salumi to potato chips, salted cookies to salted caramels, it's one of my favorite seasonings. And I also know how important it is to help bring out the flavor of many ingredients when cooking.

A pinch of salt in my ice cream base - of course. Making oatmeal in the morning - a little salt goes a long way.

But...I think chefs, at least here in NYC, might be getting a little salt-happy. Over the past couple of months, there have been a number of restaurant dishes that we've ordered which have been practically inedible due to too much salt.

So, is this a trend, a passing fad or just some really bad taste buds back there in the kitchen?


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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This is nothing new. The guys in the back just burn it - salt it and send it out. They do not taste. When Philip was in school in France they drilled, taste, taste, taste. Here in the US we don't pay cooks, we don't respect cooks and we don't expect much from cooks. So don't be suprised when they dump on the salt.


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Same experience at Lidia in Pittsburgh. Twice the meat was way way too salty to enjoy. And I love salt.

But Lidia is a mess on many levels. She should pack her knives and go.

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A lot of chefs over salt their food simply because of their salty palates. The more you eat salt the more you need salt for the food to taste just right. I find that for some reason bad chefs use too little salt and actually good chefs over salt their food.

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Salting is the hardest thing to do correctly IMHO. You keep adding adding adding and the food just keeps getting better, then you hit the tipping point and the food is ruined. Its like "playing chicken" with flavor. You want to get as much salt into a dish as possible without letting the salt taste be pronounced, but its such a fine line that it takes a very skilled cook to really salt properly.

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Here in CA, I have been finding the opposite problem. Some "chefs" are not salting at all. Some things just have to have a little salt added during cooking to taste right when finished.

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Here in CA, I have been finding the opposite problem. Some "chefs" are not salting at all. Some things just have to have a little salt added during cooking to taste right when finished.

I agree. I often long to see a salt shaker on my table.

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ill....take the under...but..been addding more salts lately

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Its good to have Morels

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Here in CA, I have been finding the opposite problem. Some "chefs" are not salting at all. Some things just have to have a little salt added during cooking to taste right when finished.

I agree. I often long to see a salt shaker on my table.

I agree about undersalting around here, especially in restaurants with a "health food" focus. There's a perception that salt is unhealthy, which tips over into any salt is supposed to be unhealthy. That belief totally ignores the fact that our bodies need some salt to stay healthy.

Whenever I taste undersalted food I feel it is just too bad. The kitchen has labored to put good food on the table, and without enough salt you can't fully taste what the food should be.

The last time I ate at Zuni Cafe in SF I noticed oversized salt shakers at every table. Usually when I go to a restaurant a salt shaker is nowhere in sight. I guess Zuni wants to make a contrarian statement. Not that the shaker was needed at my table, I thought the food was perfectly salted.

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Been in several places/restaurants that uses too much salt and some just really doesn't have that salty taste on their foods. I guess it's just a matter of the kind of practice these chefs make? Or maybe they get too tired and got too salt-happy with their dishes. Anyway, I like it not very salty, I can add salt on it right away to suit my taste.

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I find that with my palate, I need to salt food to what I percieve as slightly bland in order to season to the 'correct' level as determined by my chef. I can live with that, as I'm well aware that I love salt. My mother has haemochromatosis, and she has salt cravings to the point where her food is often quite salty, so I guess that's the origin of my palate.

I think the oversalting problem is more along the lines of Jmahl's post, in which neither the line cooks or the chef actually tastes the food, so the end product is usually oversalted.

I think it's better to underseason and have salt on the table, rather than to rely on customers having palates reflecting the cooks, especially seeing as salt tolerance tends to vary highly especially with age.


James.

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Wait a second...I got food from my local Dominican/Puerto Rican place last night - delivery. Pernil, oxtail stew, red beans, black beans, rice, vegetable soup and even some Buffalo Wings. total cost - $32. It was ALL properly salted.

So I don't believe any of this BS. Food either comes out of a restaurant kitchen properly salted or not. That's what I learned in cooking school and that's what I Iearned working in a restaurant as a prep cook. That's why people eat out - to have food cooked properly, no?

The Zuni Cafe incident is interesting; as Judy Rogers notes in her excellent Zuni Cafe Cookbook:

Recipes do not make food taste good; people do...there is no substitute for vigilant tasting.

This book urges you to add your salt "early" in many situations, echoing a technique we have used at Zuni for more than a decade.

Judy knows salt and isn't afraid to show her customers that by putting those giant shakers at every table. My guess is that most, if not all, of the food coming out of that kitchen doesn't need anything but a knife and fork...or two hands.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Salting is definitely a difficult task for those that are less "gifted" in the kitchen, like myself. Only an hour ago, I completely ruined an entire pot of Pumpkin risotto by oversalting (by accident!)

Having said that, I haven't had over salted food in a restaurant in a long while, maybe it's an NYC thing. Although it sounds more like sloppy cooking.

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Identifying what's properly salted is a crapshoot. If you eat out a lot, most food will probably be within your expected preferred range. Anyone who has reduced their sodium intake for one reason or another knows that the taste buds adjust after a time, and keep adjusting as the level of salt in the diet decreases. If you eat a lot of processed food and fast food, most of that stuff will also taste properly salted, no?

I love salt, but I've cut way back in the past few years. I never ate a lot of fast foods or processed foods, so my tolerance level for sodium is below average, I am guessing. Mostly I don't eat out any more, and the reasons are multiple: costs far too much, the food often tastes too salty and I usually have the time and/or inclination to cook. I try to salt my food moderately while cooking, and usually end up undersalting by some amount, even to my own taste buds. So I often use a little finishing salt after plating, and always provide it to guests at the table. I have a sister-in-law who cooks with no salt at all and her food is tasteless, imho. She's the only person I know who probably considers my cooking too salty. With the exception of baked goods, I almost always cut back on the salt specified in a recipe.

I used to think that restaurants in NY oversalted more than restaurants on the west coast, but I don't believe that any more; salt seems evenly distributed in all parts of the country. If the sodium content of all processed and fast foods was cut back somewhat--maybe gradually--and if many restaurants did the same, there would be a general lowering of salt tolerance in the entire population; hard to imagine that happening, however, given the vast number of people who are used to phenomenal sodium levels. To say nothing of the money it will cost the food industry to make some changes.


Edited by Katie Meadow (log)

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Identifying what's properly salted is a crapshoot. If you eat out a lot, most food will probably be within your expected preferred range. Anyone who has reduced their sodium intake for one reason or another knows that the taste buds adjust after a time, and keep adjusting as the level of salt in the diet decreases. If you eat a lot of processed food and fast food, most of that stuff will also taste properly salted, no?

Maybe we should step back a bit and consider what proper salting means. IMO, it's not about how "salty" the food tastes. If you taste the salt, then the dish is probably oversalted. (There are some dishes where a salty flavor profile is deliberate.) Undersalting, to me, means that the food tastes dull--the cook hasn't salted enough to bring out all the flavors in the food.

A classic exercise is to take a bowl of unsalted soup, and keep salting it and tasting it until it's oversalted. You'll gradually taste more and more ingredients in the soup as you salt. Once you oversalt, you'll know where to go backwards for the best place to stop salting. If you're cooking something and wondering how much to salt, you can take a small amt of the food (if possible) and do this same oversalting exercise to find the best place to stop salting.

I don't believe in undersalting and letting people salt at the table. And I don't think restaurants should do that either. Sorry, but that's a cop-out, IMO. I feel in order to be a good cook I should put the best-tasting food on the table--and that means salting the food to my taste and trusting my palate.

I agree with Barbara Y, salting the food while it's cooking yields different results than salting cooked food at the table. Remember this question: What's the difference between eggs that you mix with salt, then cook, as compared to eggs that you cook, then salt?

Eggs that you mix with salt, then cook, taste more egg-y and savory. Eggs that you cook, then salt, are eggs with salt on their surface--or, salty eggs.

According to Breton folklore, the Devil despises salt and serves meals without any salt. There you have it, folks--an unsalted meal is dinner in Hell.

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My problem is the exact opposite - I have a fairly salty palate and feel that rarely is food sufficiently salted. I don't mind this, except that there seems to be a trend away from providing salt at the table.

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I don't believe in undersalting and letting people salt at the table. And I don't think restaurants should do that either. Sorry, but that's a cop-out, IMO. I feel in order to be a good cook I should put the best-tasting food on the table--and that means salting the food to my taste and trusting my palate.

People have different palates and preferences. While a cook may prepare a dish the way he or she feels it's best presented, the person eating it may prefer more or less of a particular flavor. Should a restaurant, or a cook, be so presumptuous to decide for the diner what's most suitable, or should the diner have the option to fine tune the seasoning to his or her preference?


 ... Shel


 

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I don't believe in undersalting and letting people salt at the table. And I don't think restaurants should do that either. Sorry, but that's a cop-out, IMO. I feel in order to be a good cook I should put the best-tasting food on the table--and that means salting the food to my taste and trusting my palate.

Exactly right. Thank you.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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"Here in CA, I have been finding the opposite problem. Some "chefs" are not salting at all. Some things just have to have a little salt added during cooking to taste right when finished."

I agree as well. I'm getting tired of paying too much for under seasoned food. They think that the quality of ingredients will just shine through but...in a lot of cases, pass me a little salt please.


Edited by ScottyBoy (log)

Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

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"Here in CA, I have been finding the opposite problem. Some "chefs" are not salting at all. Some things just have to have a little salt added during cooking to taste right when finished."

I agree as well. I'm getting tired of paying too much for under seasoned food. They think that the quality of ingredients will just shine through but...in a lot of cases, pass me a little salt please.

Do you take salt with you when you go out? This thread has me thinking about it....

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Given I am a person who tries to use less salt, surprisingly I do carry a vial of gray sea salt around in my purse. A couple of summers ago I discovered the fresh corn ice cream at Tara's, in Oakland. It definitely screams for a little salt, but the board lists salt, among other things, at 50 cents extra. What's with that? We're taking about a few grains, no? So I started carrying my own salt in case I should find myself walking by Tara's. Every once in a while it comes in very handy for bland or seriously undersalted foods.

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My personal belief, which I have seen proved correct amongst friends, families and acquaintances on numerous occassions, is that different people prefer different levels of saltiness. Therefore, I do not believe that there is one exact degree of salting that will please everyone. For this reason, I cannot understand why certain chefs are so horrified by the thought of allowing salt shaker or some other salt-serving-device on tables. It is not a comment on their cooking if I prefer a little extra salt, it is merely a comment on my taste buds. There is no need to be offended, it does not mean that I dislike the food.

Actually I would far rather that restaurants were on the conservative side when it comes to salting (by this I don't mean not bothering to season properly, I just mean to remember to go a little lighter to allow for less salty palates) and put salt on the tables. That way, I don't have to worry about getting a dish that is ruined by too much salt (and then I have to ask for a slice or two of lemon as this seems to help make excessive saltiness more bearable, to my taste buds at least) but if a dish comes out the opposite way, I can correct it for my tastes.

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I don't believe in undersalting and letting people salt at the table. And I don't think restaurants should do that either. Sorry, but that's a cop-out, IMO. I feel in order to be a good cook I should put the best-tasting food on the table--and that means salting the food to my taste and trusting my palate.

Exactly right. Thank you.

You're misinterpreting my point. I was speaking from the point of view of my palate, and how that if I salt to my taste every time, I will have 25% of people finding the dish too salty and not enjoying it/sending it back. Thus, I have to salt to what I percieve as "it could cope with a little more" and then send it.

I don't mean cooks deliberately sending out dishes way underseasoned with the rationale of "they can salt it themselves". As others have pointed out, every dish needs salt at the start of and during the cooking process to bring the best flavours out of it. As far as finishing seasoning goes, that's where the balance can be lost.


James.

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I don't believe in undersalting and letting people salt at the table. And I don't think restaurants should do that either. Sorry, but that's a cop-out, IMO. I feel in order to be a good cook I should put the best-tasting food on the table--and that means salting the food to my taste and trusting my palate.

Exactly right. Thank you.

So if, just to play devil's advocate, 9 food critics ate the same dish at the same restaurant on the same night and 3 said it was perfect, 3 said it was over-salted and 3 said it was under-salted... which direction would you suggest the chef steer the seasoning? You don't need to tell me I'm being a bit facetious, I'm aware of that. My point is that personal preference does play a role from the diner's end of the deal. I agree the cook should trust his/her palate when sending the food out but it's still a crapshoot on how the diner will react to it. If the entire kitchen and majority of customers think a dish is perfect but some guy at table 7 thinks it needs more salt and he just happens to be the one person in the building who is going to write about the place...


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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