The Recipe Convention That Dooms Home Cooks

No, but IMO it is one of the important reasons to direct readers to use salt at specific points in a recipe, in addition to flavor reasons. Most recipes don’t, and as a result many cooks don’t understand why their food never turns out as well as a restaurant’s or that of their friend who is a “really good cook.” Really good cook friend probably knows a whole lot of technique that isn’t included in recipes.

I hear you. Eggplant that hasn’t been salted and rinsed prior to being fried is horrible.

So greasy and one’s stomach complains after eating all that oil.

Seasoning in stages isn’t universal, it’s a western technique.

I don’t believe I said it was. I wouldn’t expect a cookbook author covering a cuisine that doesn’t leverage that technique to include it in their instructions.

Again, this is a good point, but I don’t think this is what Goode was writing about.

If salting your mushrooms or aromatics before sweating helps in dewatering, great, the helpful writer can say so. If it’s about (cumulative and subjective) saline taste, what think of as seasoning, there’s nothing to belabor in the recipe.

This is what I was referring to. I don’t believe it’s considered a tool universally. In some traditions, it may be even be considered a cheat / shortcut that a skilled cook would not apply.

As an aside, it seems ironic that the Alison Roman recipe linked is one that has been used to criticize her appropriating flavor and technique without attribution — she made a chickpea curry and called it a stew (the headnote was adjusted later by the NYT iirc).

In any case, the base recipe would not have been seasoned that many times - you’ll rarely find an indian (or middle eastern or chinese or other asian) recipe that calls for salt so many times.

(On an unrelated note, sodium content creeps up by seasoning in layers, so that’s one reason not to use salt multiple times. In taste tests, apparently you can get away with using half the salt by seasoning at the end vs along the way, which is not an insignificant health benefit.)


I have made Alison Roman’s Chickpea Stew many times. It is not a curry.

It is mild and sweet. If you served it to anyone who is familiar with curry and called it a curry you’d be laughed at.

Using turmeric and ginger in a recipe doesn’t make it a curry.

the legendary Italian cook Marcella Hazan allegedly could, whether a dish is properly salted by smell alone.

My mom can tell whether something is properly seasoned by smell. She went back to being vegetarian at some point, but continues to cook meat and fish, and spices and seasons perfectly without ever tasting. She’ll have us taste if she thinks something is off, but usually figures out what adjustment is needed herself (for eg: I’ll say “more salt” she’ll say “no, splash of vinegar” and that will readjust the flavor profile correctly).

But in reality seasoning “to taste” strikes me as code for an aspirational aptitude that I and most others will never acquire. Rather than a phrase of welcome encouragement, a rousing “The rest is up to you!,” it seems like a form of desertion, a shrugging “You’re on your own from here.” The underlying problem might be the mistaken implication that my taste can be relied on.”

This is so true. And yet, with the variance in every type of seasoning, whether salt or chilli powder, there really isn’t a solution imo. Then there are types of the “same” seasoning — for eg in Thai cooking, salt may be less but fish sauce may be what’s actually needed to round out the flavor.

When I didn’t cook much soon after college, I often ate with friends, and helped make one thing or finish the meal. Every time I salted something at their house, it turned into a salt lick, and I couldn’t understand why, because my estimate was exactly the same when I cooked at home, when the salt was perfect. It was many, many years later, when I learned about the saltiness of types of salt, that I realized that she only used table salt, vs I had been taught to (and continued to) cook with kosher salt. :woman_facepalming:t2::woman_shrugging:t2:

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Perhaps, although my point was really that a cook has to understand what salt does in addition to adding salinity before they know whether they want to apply it to a given stage of a recipe. Cooks who choose not to salt at XYZ stage because they consider it a “cheat” probably understand what salt can do beyond making things salty.

As an American, I would be interested in seeing cookbooks from other cuisines that are written primarily for an American/native English speaking audience specifying when NOT to use salt, and why, as my habit is always to layer it as I feel appropriate for the task at hand.

Most cookbooks on international cuisines by western authors, or by international authors publishing in the west, are already written for that audience, no?

I don’t think most cookbook readers want that much detail, though. For eg, SFAH is a lot for the average cook / reader. And I found Season (Nik Sharma) very contrived and difficult to get through, and I read cookbooks for interest, not recipes.

As you and others have said above, there’s a lot that can’t be written, but is learned either through practice, or by watching someone experienced. I’ve certainly learned more from watching some cooks on YouTube in languages I didn’t understand than by reading equivalent recipes (I’m thinking for eg of some Ethiopian and Turkish recipes I had read plenty of versions of).


His is reminding me of adding salt in that Hyderabadi tomato chutney recipe I’m always working on. But I am in a museum right now, so details will have to wait.

Here it is.

If I add salt at the wrong time it really changes things.


I’m not debating this here. Plenty has been written on it for anyone to inform themselves. WaPo is probably one of the more balanced articles (though balance isn’t always necessary - or helpful - on such topics).

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Not necessarily:

Actually, this article confirms my views on salting eggplant.

I am fond of bitter food; I even like bitter melon and natto, so I’m not salting eggplant to reduce bitterness.

I salt eggplant to reduce oil absorption. Not only do I prefer the silky texture , I find that eggplant that has been fried without being salted makes my stomach feel uncomfortable.

I can’t speak for your stomach issues, of course, but salting doesn’t really prevent the eggplant from absorbing more oil.

" * Claim 2: Oil absorption. As the salt draws water out of the cells, the eggplant’s spongy structure is weakened as the cells collapse. Some say that salting condenses the flesh, which makes it less likely to absorb oil as it fries.

BUT, as Parsons explains, the shriveled cells are actually better able to absorb oil during frying, which means a creamier, silkier texture as opposed to a meatier, chewier one. And in The Food Lab, Kenji López-Alt focuses on air, not oil: The key for optimally-textured eggplant is removing air—breaking down the cell structure and pressing out the air in between—and this can be achieved by microwaving eggplant slices between a sandwich of paper towels and plates before you fry.