10 Tips for Seasoning Food

Joseph Gionfriddo

1.  When preparing fried food it is best to season lightly with salt just after removing it from the fryer, while the food is still hot and slightly moist.  The salt will cling better and begin to dissolve into the food as the outer layer of greasegroundpepper from frying is slowly reabsorbed back into the food.

2.  Whenever available always use freshly ground/grated spices.  Ground cinnamon stick, freshly cracked black pepper and salt and freshly grated nutmeg, are all examples of easy to find whole spices that make a huge difference when used fresh, and my spice grinder just cost $1 at the dollar store.

3.  Experiment with the different types and coarsenesses of salt, it is a simple flavor enhancing ingredient, but there are many forms of it.  Table salt, kosher salt, coarse sea salt, grey salt, fleur de sel, are just some of the many forms of salt that all work and taste differently.

4.  When preparing stocks for soups or sauces, season with salt and pepper at the end of cooking, as the natural salt content of the liquid will intensify as it reduces, if you salt too heavily, too early, your soup will be doomed!

5.  Dry rubs are simply combinations of dry ground spices and or chopped herbs, and when applied liberally to a good piece of meat add a wallop of flavor. When cooked at high heat the rub will create a crust of flavor that locks in the juices and flavors the meat inside.  When applying spice rubs you can lay it on heavily as the intense flavor of the spices is mellowed by cooking.

6.  Just like dry rubs, wet rubs contain almost entirely dry ground spices, but they are then moistened to the consistency of a loose paste by the addition of small amounts of liquid, often water, wine, or stock.  Where dry rubs tend to be best cooked at high heat, and or seared to create a crisp outer crust, wet rubs are best cooked slowly, at lower heat.  When it is done like this, the flavor is better allowed to penetrate the meat.  You can then crank the heat in the oven for the last 15 minutes of cooking to create a crispy outer crust.

7.  Salt brings out the moisture of things.  It is used as the main ingredient in almost all things cured, brined, and preserved.  You can use this principal to remove water moisture when cooking vegetables, thus intensifying their natural flavor, and reducing water content.  A classic example is breaded and fried eggplant, which has a nasty habit of getting soggy.  Before you bread your eggplant, place the slices on a raised, perforated, cooling rack over some paper towels, season thoroughly with kosher salt, and let the water moisture drip out onto the paper towels for 10-15 minutes.  Now your eggplant parm won’t be all mushy.

8.  When sautéing mushrooms, begin with just oil and a little butter, do not season until the mushrooms begin to get noisy in the pan.  This will tell you that the mushrooms are now beginning to cook and absorb the oil and butter.  When you salt the mushrooms now, the moisture won’t be removed because they have absorbed fat in the pores where water would evaporate from.  Your mushrooms will be more succulent and flavorful when seasoned this way.

9.  Take care when buying butter, salted and unsalted butter can flavor foods cooked with them very differently, especially when cooking desserts and pastries.  I once was showing a new chef how to make chocolate mousse, they followed all the steps correctly and used all the correct ingredients, but it tasted extremely salty.  It was to the point that I thought the chef used table salt instead of granulated sugar by accident.  In reality it was the butter melted in with the chocolate, because the butter we had in the restaurant was salted that week when we normally had unsalted.  That small difference ruined the mousse.

10.  Finally, it’s good to experiment but don’t season with stuff you don’t like, if in doubt, leave it out!  When you are cooking with a spice rub for a large group of people, remember everyone’s individual tastes, and flavor thoroughly but subtly.  Overly spicy isn’t good for everybody, and some strong flavors like mustard, white pepper,  and ginger walk a thin line between pleasant additions to a rub, to completely overpowering.  Best to perfect your rub recipe before you get it on the Christmas roast to feed 20 assorted hungry relatives and friends.

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Photo by: dvortygirl
Contributing author: Joseph M. Gionfriddo