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More Than Salt: The Elements of Cooking

Seasoning Doesn’t Just Mean Salt & Pepper

saltYou’ve meticulously studied the recipe. You’ve gone to specialty grocery stores and purchased every single obscure ingredient. You followed the directions exactly. You seasoned with salt and pepper, plated the exotic meal beautifully, put it on the table, and it tastes. . . ok.

To me, the most important skill a cook can master, in regards to savory cooking, is the ability to taste what you’ve made and then know what you can do to elevate it to perfection. No matter how closely you follow a recipe, there will always be variables in your kitchen and ingredients that differ from those of the author of the recipe. A skillful chef or even a good home cook knows how to combat these differences and fix a meal that needs just that little extra. Most recipes encourage you to season with salt and pepper. I would argue that seasoning with acid, sweetness, and fat are just as important. limesThere’s a reason restaurants often garnish fish with citrus wedges to squeeze or top a steak with a pat of garlic-herb butter.

I think the easiest way to practice the skill of tasting and adding salt, acid, sugar, or fat to perfection is to make a simple vinaigrette. This is the simplest balance of the four components. Whisk up your favorite vinaigrette recipe and then taste it. Does it taste bland? It probably needs more vinegar or salt. Is it too sour? Some added oil (fat) or honey should temper the acidity. Is it too salty? You can dilute the salinity by adding volume to the vinaigrette with vinegar and oil. Does it taste right, but somehow doesn’t feel rounded out? A dab of honey should round out any rough edges. Mastering this process to find the perfect balance is the key. Once you have this skill, you can easily apply it to almost any situation where dinner just seems to need a little pop.

Almost every ethnic cuisine incorporates ingredients that fill the need for each of these elements. Many ingredients bring multiple elements to the dish. The table below lists some basics, but the possibilities and combinations are endless once you become familiar with new ingredients and recognize which of these elements they add to your food.

Cuisine

Salt

Acid

Fat

Sweet

Mexican Salt, Cotija Cheese Lime, Hot Sauce, Pineapple Avocado, Cheese, Crema,

Corn Oil

Pineapple, Piloncillo, Honey
Asian Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, Miso Yuzu, Rice Wine Vinegar, Lime Coconut Milk, Silken Tofu, Sesame Oil Mirin, Mango, Papaya
Italian Parmesan, Anchovy, Prosciutto Tomatoes, Balsamic, Lemon Olive Oil, Cheese, Egg Yolk Marsala Wine
French Sea Salt Red Wine Vinegar, Lemon Cream, Butter Port Wine, Orange
Spanish Salt Cod, Iberico Ham, Manchego Cheese Sherry Vinegar Olive Oil, Almonds Honey, Sugar
Southern US Bacon Hot Sauce Butter, Cream Molasses, Sorghum

-Mark Maybon has been a personal chef and Friend for three and a half years.  He serves our Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita and Twin City markets.