Fixing Under and Over Salted Dishes

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Salt does not add its own flavor to a dish, but rather draws out the flavor from the ingredients already present.
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“How to Taste” by Becky Selengut helps home cooks bring balance to their meals through proper seasoning.

How to Taste (Sasquatch Books, 2018), by Becky Selengut explains to readers how to properly taste your food and give it the seasoning it needs most. You will learn how to adjust dishes that are too salty or acidic, how to identify when a specific seasoning is missing, and how to use spices to balance your dishes. The following excerpt explains how to know when salt is the missing ingredient.

How to Determine if Salt is the Missing Ingredient

It’s easier than you might think, though practice and focus are required. We have fewer taste buds in the middle part of our tongue (the mid-palate) than anywhere else. Use this knowledge to your advantage—the mid-palate is the place where taste sensations die off a bit, so bump up the salt incrementally until the transition from tongue tip to throat is a seamless one. When food is undersalted, you may have the sensation of a metaphorical hole opening up in the center of your tongue where the flavor falls off precipitously. You could sense the food’s potential when it hit the tip of your tongue but then it travels backward and meh, there it went. Perhaps there’s a brief sensation at the back of the tongue (especially with bitter flavors) before it disappears again. This is what a dish tastes like when it is woefully undersalted.

However, gradual additions of salt will start to bridge that mid-palate and allow the balanced taste to move farther and farther back on your tongue. When you have finally added enough salt, the flavor persists consistently from front to back and has a lingering finish much like good wines. Ideally all of this transpires without the food tasting salty at all—on the contrary, the flavor should be even,  without one thing dominating another.

This is probably obvious, but while salt brings out the essential flavor of whatever ingredient or dish you apply it to, if you start with subpar components, the salt can only help so much. A properly seasoned salad made with last week’s tired ingredients is just barely better than an unseasoned salad made with last week’s tired ingredients.

Deciphering a Salt Problem

When food is undersalted you may detect the following:

• The sensation of a piece of cotton or gauze wrapped round the middle of your tongue, dulling sensation
• A loss of taste as the food hits your mid-palate
• Tasting some elements of the dish but missing others
• A feeling that each element in the dish is fighting against another. 

How to Fix an Over Salted Dish

1. Bulk up or dilute: in other words, add more of the other ingredients to spread that salt around. If you made a salty salad, toss in more lettuce. Soup? Add cream or some (unsalted) stock to dilute it. What you shouldn’t do? Add a cut-up potato to said soup to “suck out the extra salt.” Seriously, don’t. It doesn’t work and you could end up introducing unwanted starchiness. Some kitchen myths just won’t die.

2. Add some sweetness in the form of sugar, honey, dried fruit, etc. Your brain will be absolutely convinced there’s less salt in the food. Surprise, there isn’t.

3. Add lemon juice or vinegar in small amounts, toss or stir well, and keep tasting until you detect less saltiness. Acid turns down the perception of salt. If you often find restaurant food too salty, ask for a lemon wedge or some vinegar; you might still end up with cankles from water retention but you’ll enjoy your meal more.

4. Add fat to “coat the tongue,” which will lessen the perception of salt. For example, add some coconut milk to a salty Thai soup, or whisk a little extra olive oil into an oversalted dressing.

5. Try any combination of 1, 2, 3, and 4 if one on its own isn’t doing the trick.

More from: How to Taste

Using Alcohol in Your Cooking
Swapping Sugars in Cooking

© 2018 by Becky Selengut. All rights reserved. Excerpted fromHow to Tasteby permission of Sasquatch Books.

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