Basic technique, Ramblings
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What does “Season to Taste” mean, exactly?

The Kitchn has a great post on how to properly season a dish.  When a recipe says “season to taste”, what do they mean?

I tried to cover this in my Turkey Noodle Soup post, but after reading their version…boy, did I ever Fail.

They explain the thought process I go through when I’m seasoning soup, but they have some important clues that I couldn’t put into words.

My explanation of when to add salt:

The tasting part of the recipe is the key piece. Does it seem bland? Add salt.

Their explanation:

1. Does It Need Salt? – Nine times out of ten, it does. Salt reduces bitterness and amplifies other flavors in a dish. We add it a half-teaspoon at a time until we can taste those two things happen and just before the dish actually tastes salty. []

That’s IT!  I add salt until I taste that “reducing of bitterness.”  I’ve always thought of it as adding salt and tasting,  until the soup starts to taste “a little sweet” – that’s what I’ve learned to look for.
*I mention soup specifically, because this set of instructions is key for making good tasting soup.  Soup always needs something extra; more salt, spices, and some acid are requirements for a good soup.  

**That’s one of the (many) things that I loved about Ratatouille; the scene where Remy is trying to fix the soup, and he thinks he’s done.  He’s leaving.  Then he slows down, and starts snapping his fingers.  You can see him thinking, “It’s still missing something…”

They have a (great) five point list, but mine is usually a three step list:

  1. Add salt until it you taste it start to taste “a little sweet”.
  2. Add spices (pepper, fresh herbs if they’re in the dish) until the spices are in balance with the rest of the flavors.  I taste for “do I taste the spices?”  If the dish doesn’t have fresh herbs in it, I just add freshly ground black pepper.  I don’t add extra dried herbs or spices; they taste “gritty” to me, and I’ve learned to make sure they cook with the dish.  If it’s already in the dish, adding a little extra fresh herbs at the end can make a big difference in the flavor.
  3. Add acid (hot sauce, lemon juice, or vinegar) if it tastes one-dimensional – again, I taste for “is it just sweet, or is there something else going on there?”  If it’s just sweet, I add a little acid and taste again.  Hot sauce works really well, because the acid from the vinegar and the heat from the peppers both act to boost the flavor, but you have to be careful.  If the dish isn’t supposed to be “hot”, I add a dash of hot sauce, then switch to vinegar or lemon juice.

*Their list is better, but I lose patience after three steps when I’m finishing a dish.  

I do this automatically with soup, to the point that I’m going to get burned someday (that 10th time out of 10 they mention).  I add some salt, pepper and a splash of hot sauce, THEN I taste the soup.

Don’t forget to season to taste!

Cook’s Tricks: How to Properly Season a Dish []

Questions? Comments? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments, below.

Related posts:
When should you salt meat?

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Filed under: Basic technique, Ramblings


Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.

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