Step by step guide to master the art of seasoning
A dash of seasoning is the perfect way to spice up your recipes. When it comes to enhancing flavour, salt and pepper are sure-fire winners. And what better way to get the most impact than freshly grinding your seasonings with a pair of salt and pepper mills?
Say goodbye to bland meals and hello to a world of taste sensation with our handy guide. In just a few steps, you can become a true seasoning master.
What is seasoning?
'Seasoning' refers to ways of amplifying the flavour of your dishes by adding salt, herbs, or spices.
There are four basic categories of seasoning ingredients: salt, pepper, sugar or sweeteners, and acids. Each type underscores an array of flavour profiles within a dish and contributes its own unique properties to add depth and tantalise the taste buds.
In this article, we're focussing on salt and pepper, which are, in our humble opinion, the essential seasonings every kitchen needs.
Where to start?
Top-notch seasoning is all about striking the perfect balance to take your cooking from passable sustenance to a delight for all the senses.
First things first, tasting is key. From preparation to dishing up, regular nibbles will help you adjust as you go. You can always add a little more, but once it's in there, you can't take it out again!
Sourcing fresh, high-quality ingredients is also vital. Salt and pepper mills ensure your seasonings stay fresh and fragrant for longer.
If you’re going off-piste and experimenting with your culinary creations, it's helpful to have an understanding of different seasonings' flavours and impacts.
Let's explore the taste profiles of salt and pepper.
What flavour does salt add?
Salt is a fantastic addition to both sweet and savoury dishes. A seasoning chameleon, it has the ability to shift a recipe's flavour balance. A small amount reduces bitterness and can increase sweet, sour, and umami flavours. This is why many desserts — like these delectable chocolate bliss balls — call for a pinch of sea salt. In larger concentrations, salt enhances umami but suppresses sweetness, making it ideal for savoury meals.
As for its own flavour, salt is, well, salty! Along with sweet, sour, bitter, and umami, salty is one of the five basic tastes. Despite this, there are countless salt varieties, and their chemical compositions alter the taste they impart. Himalayan black salt, for instance, has a sulphurous flavour that works well in scrambled tofu, while truffle salt has an aromatic, earthy taste.
Salt with large crystals has a stronger taste than fine salt and lingers on your tongue for longer.
What flavour does pepper add?
Black and white peppercorns come from the same plant, Piper Nigrum. However, the way they are dried and processed gives them unique properties and different flavour profiles.
Black pepper tends to be more fragrant and complex than white, and its sun-dried skin retains a lot of heat — perfect for a spicy kick. White pepper has a milder, earthy flavour.
While you can use pre-ground pepper from a shaker, there's nothing quite like the punchy aroma of the freshly ground stuff. Once a peppercorn has been cracked, it starts to lose potency. Buying whole peppercorns means you can grind as much as you need whilst keeping the rest as fresh as possible.
Another bonus of grinding whole peppercorns with an adjustable mill is that you can decide how coarse you want it. With one quick twist, you can go from a delicate dusting to a chunky sprinkle of crunchy cracked peppercorns.
When should you add seasoning?
The next step is knowing when to add seasoning. Should you add salt and pepper before heating? During the cooking process? Or after serving?
As with all culinary practices, timing is important, but it's also down to personal preference. A good basic guideline to follow is: beginning and end.
Adding salt early on is suitable for slow-cooked recipes. It gives the heroic mineral the chance to permeate through the dish over an extended period of time. Seasoning meat and other proteins ahead of cooking also gives salt and pepper the time to penetrate the centre for full flavour impact.
For more rapidly cooked meals, seasoning at the end is preferable. Many chefs specifically advise adding white pepper after cooking as overheating can make it bitter.
What does "season to taste" mean?
The phrase 'season to taste' seems to have one of two effects on people. Either you panic and cautiously add a tiny pinch. Or you go all in and add huge lashings at once, hoping for the best.
But ultimately, 'season to taste' isn't that scary. It simply gives you license to add as much of the specified seasoning as you need for it to taste good to you. Season to taste instructions are another reason that tasting as you go is helpful. Taste, tweak, and fine-tune.
When it comes to cooking for others, seasoning to taste can be trickier as everyone's taste buds are different. In that respect, salt and pepper shakers at the table are a good solution. They allow individuals to add as much as suits their personal needs, especially if they are conscious of their sodium intake.
What do you do if you overseason?
The final step in mastering the art of seasoning is knowing how to rescue overseasoned food.
The salt lid is on pour instead of sprinkle; you spill a pile of sugar instead of a pinch; a jolt knocks the pepper over, triggering a haze of sneezing. We've all been there. But have no fear, all is not lost.
If you've overseasoned a dish with a high liquid content, like soup, you can dilute it with water or whizz up some extra veggies.
Dairy is another saving grace for oversalted soup. A dollop of cream or swirl of yoghurt upon serving can balance out the saltiness and add a velvety texture. For a vegan option, coconut milk also does the trick.
Acidic ingredients can also save overseasoned dishes. A squeeze of lemon or drizzle of vinegar is a delicious way to rescue chips that have been a bit too liberally doused with salt.
What is accent seasoning (MSG)?
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG, or E621) is an additive commonly found in foods such as stock cubes, savoury snacks, and ramen. It's also the main ingredient in Accent Flavour Enhancer. Derived from an amino acid, it has an earthy, umami flavour and enhances savoury compounds.
MSG has seen a lot of controversy over the years. Some people worry it can have adverse health effects, although studies on this are inconclusive. That said, some people do have a sensitivity to MSG, so it's good to be aware of your intake and check ingredients before using.
Final seasoning tips
Now you're a master in the art of seasoning, the best thing you can do is get in the kitchen and start experimenting! But here are a couple of seasoning tips for the road.
To create bespoke seasoning blends for your signature dishes, why not try using a Pestle and Mortar to crush and mix delicious herbs and spices?
When tasting and tweaking as you go, be aware that your taste buds can become desensitised to flavours. It's a good idea to take a break and a sip of water to reset your palate before trying again. Alternatively, you can rein in a friend for a second opinion!
Whether you're cooking for yourself or others, freshly grinding with salt and pepper mills ensures your seasoning is packed with real pizazz.