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Is Restaurant Food Too Salty?


robyn
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When growing up, and still to this day, my mother has been of the opinion that one shouldn't need to add salt, we all get enough of it, and there's plenty of salt built in to the foods we eat. The only time we had salt on the table was for fried eggs and grits for Sunday breakfast and with corn on the cob.

I often notice something refreshing about her cooking. The foods she prepares taste excellent, often precisely because she has failed to season them, yet cooked them well. I also think it is because she prepares many foods to stand on their own. I think that many plain vegetables and meats well cooked do not always require seasoning. Standing alone they can be quite enjoyable, and enjoying them with salt (and other seasonings) is a different experience.

In contrast, when flavors are being combined, or when the flavors on a plate are intended to be combined, I think that salt is necessary to achieve harmony. Without salt, the separate flavors compete with one another, and I think this is the reason restaurant food generally requires salt.

I have rarely found restaurant food to be too salty, except ofr in places where it seems highly unlikely that the food is prepared on site from scratch. Processing foods always requires a lot of salt.

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Recently I had a dish in a new restaurant that was waaay too salty. They have since improved this and it no longer happens. Even my daughter, the saltaholic, said it was too salty.

I frequently find vegetables to be unsalted. Also incorrectly cooked, ie. carrots and zucchini can't be cooked for the same length of time without one or both being incorrect. How hard is it to blanch some carrots?

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Can you generalize about the types of foods you think are undersalted?  Robyn

Quick story illuminating this point:

I had been invited over for Christmas dinner at a friend's house. She had asked for my assistance in cooking the vegetable dish, so I dutifully went off to the kitchen to prepare the veggies. When I got to the stove, there was a pot of mashed potatoes sitting on the back burner over a low flame -- presumably to be kept warm until service. As I was waiting for the veggies to cook, I snuck a little taste of the potatoes and immediately realized that they were woefully undersalted -- if even salted at all. So, I corrected the seasoning and finished up the vegetable dish.

At dinner, my friend took a bite of the mashed potatoes and looked at me and asked if I had done anything to the potatoes. When I responded that I had simply added salt, she kept repeating that she just couldn't believe how much better they were. And she couldn't believe that the only thing I added was salt.

I've also been the grill master at many a friends house and when they see me seasoning the meat with salt & pepper right before I put it on the grill, they act as if this is some novel, revolutionary idea.

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I've also been the grill master at many a friends house and when they see me seasoning the meat with salt & pepper right before I put it on the grill, they act as if this is some novel, revolutionary idea.

Most people don't cook at home. Most people don't have older family members who cook.

When they start experimenting with cooking, they don't *know* to put salt in. And the average recipe is designed to produce a blind follower who knows nothing about cooking, but can produce edible food. So when a cook says 'throw the meat on the grill, you don't need to do much to it' they hear 'you don't need to do anything to it'. But the cook means for them to at least add salt and pepper to the meat, and depending on the meal maybe some garlic or rosemary or ginger.

That's why I don't write things up as recipes anymore. Instead, I try to walk the person through the decision making process I go through as I make something. I may add a lot of salt one time, and hardly any the next. Or I may be in a tearing hurry, so the chicken gets salted *right* before it goes in to roast, rather than the day before. I'm not really interested in helping someone to duplicate exactly the dish I make. I'd rather help them learn how to make the decisions so they can make their own version that suits their taste.

And thinking this over, I suspect the reason my friends moan about their waistlines after a meal I cook is *not* due to the fat, but due to the fact that it's carefully seasoned. It tastes like bad for you restaurant food, even if it's something healthy like roast chicken with a salad and several sorts of veggies. 2 teaspoons of kosher salt on a chicken isn't excessive. Neither is a sprinkle of salt on the veggies. And a salad dressed with the jus of a roast chicken is going to taste sinful no matter what you do.

Emily

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I've also been the grill master at many a friends house and when they see me seasoning the meat with salt & pepper right before I put it on the grill, they act as if this is some novel, revolutionary idea.

Most people don't cook at home. Most people don't have older family members who cook.

When they start experimenting with cooking, they don't *know* to put salt in. And the average recipe is designed to produce a blind follower who knows nothing about cooking, but can produce edible food. So when a cook says 'throw the meat on the grill, you don't need to do much to it' they hear 'you don't need to do anything to it'. But the cook means for them to at least add salt and pepper to the meat, and depending on the meal maybe some garlic or rosemary or ginger.

That's why I don't write things up as recipes anymore. Instead, I try to walk the person through the decision making process I go through as I make something. I may add a lot of salt one time, and hardly any the next. Or I may be in a tearing hurry, so the chicken gets salted *right* before it goes in to roast, rather than the day before. I'm not really interested in helping someone to duplicate exactly the dish I make. I'd rather help them learn how to make the decisions so they can make their own version that suits their taste.

And thinking this over, I suspect the reason my friends moan about their waistlines after a meal I cook is *not* due to the fat, but due to the fact that it's carefully seasoned. It tastes like bad for you restaurant food, even if it's something healthy like roast chicken with a salad and several sorts of veggies. 2 teaspoons of kosher salt on a chicken isn't excessive. Neither is a sprinkle of salt on the veggies. And a salad dressed with the jus of a roast chicken is going to taste sinful no matter what you do.

Emily

I have to disagree. Two teaspoons of salt on a small roaster chicken is too much - unless you don't eat the skin - in which case who cares. I do sprinkle salt on veggies - no more than about 1/4 tsp. on a serving for 2-4.

And the stuff that comes off a roast chicken is very heavy in fat - although probably not higher in fat content than the average salad dressing. Fat is fat. It's about 120 calories a tablespoon - no matter what kind of fat it is.

FWIW - I live in the south - and my favorite veggie recipes (special occasions only) aren't healthy at all (although they do taste good). My rule of thumb cooking at home is more than 4 smoked ham hocks a year is too many - and more than 8 ounces of fat back a year is too much.

I also - however - believe in "all good things in moderation". Therefore - I cook/eat one way on an everyday basis - and quite another way when I'm dealing with company or holidays or big deal restaurants. Problem is - when most of your eating is reasonably "healthy" - your tolerance for high fat/high salt foods - and large quanties of food - winds up being substantially diminished. Robyn

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I do suffer hypertension so I am on medication a salt reduced diet (whatever kind of slat) is kind of ideal and I often find restaurants tend to over salt chicken, fish and chips too much.

These days of refrigeratoin you may think that salt is no longer used as preservative.

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Can you generalize about the types of foods you think are undersalted?

Meat, vegetables and most woefully of all, pasta, since so many people don't know to salt the water. Pasta tastes awful if the water hasn't been salted.

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Can you generalize about the types of foods you think are undersalted?

Meat, vegetables and most woefully of all, pasta, since so many people don't know to salt the water. Pasta tastes awful if the water hasn't been salted.

I disagree. The important thing is what the sauce tastes like, how well it's mixed into the pasta, and what the texture of the pasta is like.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Can you generalize about the types of foods you think are undersalted?

Meat, vegetables and most woefully of all, pasta, since so many people don't know to salt the water. Pasta tastes awful if the water hasn't been salted.

I agree with Pan. Perhaps it depends a lot on the sauce. I don't make those simple "a bit of crushed tomatoes and some basil" kind of "sauces". Too thin for my blood :wink: . Almost all of my sauces are robust - from red pepper cream sauce - to pesto - to ragus. Relatively salty too (especially the ones which contain lots of cheese - which is a fair number of them).

Or maybe it depends on the pasta. I have 3 requirements in pasta - that it's the right shape for the sauce - that it has the right texture if cooked properly - and that it tastes good. My favorite for most stuff is Barilla - but - since it's impossible to find "wide" Barilla here - I use other brands when I need "wide" - like Coppola's mafalde (which is a touch too thick for my taste - but I like the shape) and Colavita's pappardelle (which is just right). Robyn

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I do suffer hypertension so I am on medication a salt reduced diet (whatever kind of slat) is kind of ideal and I often find restaurants tend to over salt chicken, fish and chips too much.

These days of refrigeratoin you may think that salt is no longer used as preservative.

As I think I mentioned above - my husband's situation is the same as yours. I note that one problem with fish and chips is chips are traditionally salted pretty heavily - and the batter in most batter-fried foods (fish - shrimp - chicken - whatever) is usually loaded with salt too. Funny thing is batter fried food doesn't taste that salty - even when it is (and it usually is - except maybe in Japan based on recent experiences). I had an amazingly bad "salt night" after eating fried chicken (local specialty here) out a couple of weeks ago. So perhaps the best thing to do is make deep-fried food an occasional "treat" (which is basically what we do). Robyn

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Meat, vegetables and most woefully of all, pasta, since so many people don't know to salt the water. Pasta tastes awful if the water hasn't been salted.

I too disagree about salt in pasta water, based on my experience & preferences. It may depend on your local water though.

Grains, though - rice, oatmeal, etc. - taste peculiar to me without salt. I always add a smidgen.

Low-salt diet for 3 years here so I'm acutely sensitive to the taste of the stuff now. There's a whole spectrum of restaurant foods out there, salt-wise, though I've found only a few dishes to be inedible in that time. (Most have involved rice.) I appreciate restaurants where the staff knows the seasoning level of the various dishes on the menu, and where the chef will cooperate in leaving salt out of freshly cooked entrees.

I also keep to such a strict low-salt diet at home that I don't worry about it too much during the occasional meal out; I do my best to order a low-salt meal, but if it doesn't pan out that way, I'll enjoy it anyway, since the occasional aberration doesn't seem to affect me.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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