The techniques and items listed on this page are ones that I have used as a chef in professional kitchens and in my own for many years. With a bit of practice you’ll be able to season like a chef at home too.
HERE ARE SOME GUIDELINES TO HELP YOU UP YOUR SEASONING GAME IN THE KITCHEN.
For the most part chef’s don’t use a lot of premixed spice blends. They may mix their own but the primary seasoning in most great restaurants is salt and pepper. The kind of salt and pepper you use, and how you use it will make a difference in how your food tastes.
This is one of the biggest factors when using salt in the kitchen: DON’T USE IODIZED SALT. Iodized salt leaves a harsh iodine flavor on your foods. Also, most iodized salt doesn’t dissolve very well when cooking. I prefer a high-quality Kosher salt like Diamond Crystal or Morton.
When seasoning foods with S & P hold the seasoning about six inches above the food and let it pass through your fingertips while moving your hand slowly over you food. This little technique will help you season food more evenly. It also looks very chefy.
Use coarse salt when seasoning with just salt and pepper. Coarse salt is better for seasoning by hand because it’s easier to see and you can feel the grains pass through your fingers.
Use a fine ground salt when making a seasoning blend with powdered spices. A fine ground salt will stay more evenly dispersed than a coarse salt. Try to use salt that has grains that are as close as possible in size to the spices you are mixing it with.
Try using a finishing salt like Maldon salt or Fleur de Sel for a different twist on your food. Put this on beef, fish, chicken, vegetables, even ice cream right before serving (think salted caramel ice cream with a few crispy light flakes of salt). Maldon salt has a unique texture that adds variety to a lot of different dishes.
Season proteins like beef, fish or chicken before you start cooking them and not during or after. Seasoning beforehand cooks the seasoning into the product so it will have a uniform seasoned flavor.
When cooking vegetables season them right when you start to saute them. Season a vegetable too early and it draws out the water and makes for a dry, rubbery vegetable. Sprinkle salt and pepper on your veggies right when they hit the pan. This draws some of the water out and will actually helps them cook.
Season pasta water before you drop your pasta in. Generally speaking I like to use 7 teaspoons of coarse kosher salt per gallon of water, but ultimately how you salt your pasta water depends on the saltiness of the sauce you plan to cook it in. ALWAYS TASTE THE WATER BEFORE YOU DROP THE PASTA IN. I’ve seen many chefs on TV set a bad example by haphazardly throwing salt into a pot of pasta water and never taste it. If you’re using a really salty sauce then back down on the quantity of salt in the water. Coarse salt is typically cheaper per ounce than fine salt so use it for seasoning liquids like water for cooking pasta, potatoes and beans. It will save you a little money.
DON’T RINSE YOUR PASTA AFTER COOKING. Pasta is like a sponge. If you rinse it after cooking, the pasta will absorb the unflavored tap water, displace all of the seasoned water you cooked into it and won’t absorb any pasta sauce. Why cook al dente? Pasta cooked al dente and finished in the sauce will absorb the flavor of your pasta sauce. So instead of tasting pasta then sauce as two separate things, you’ll taste a uniformly flavored saucy pasta.
Don’t use salted butter for cooking. Salted butter is rarely used in restaurant kitchens. The main reason for that is because it takes control of the seasoning process out of your hands and puts it in the hands of those who made that salted butter. Use unsalted butter and get better control of the flavor of your food and salt intake.
When cooking recipes with multiple steps make sure your food is well seasoned every step of the way. For example: if you’re making meatloaf or meatballs try cooking a small amount in a pan before forming and baking it. When making a soup that requires cooking some vegetables first, make sure your veggies are seasoned before you add liquid. IF YOU’RE FOOD IS SEASONED WELL AT EVERY STEP OF THE COOKING PROCESS THEN YOUR FINAL PRODUCT WILL TASTE GREAT.
If you’re cooing a new recipe that calls for a soup base paste or powder try adding it at the end. This way you don’t run the risk of over-salting.
This might be the most important tip of all when seasoning. TASTE, TASTE, TASTE. Taste your food throughout the cooking process and use all of your senses to make mental notes on how the flavor changed at different stages of cooking. This process will help you develop the ability to season by instinct, which is the way most culinary professionals do it. This skill is especially useful when cooking things you can’t cut in to, like whole pieces of meat, fish or chicken. COOK, EAT, REPEAT.
BLACK PEPPER AND WHOLE SPICES
The bottom line here is grind and grate as much as you can yourself. There is no substitute for freshly ground spices.
Every professional cook or chef carries their own personal peppermill. I use a Peugeot peppermill at home almost every day.
Store all or your spices in a cool, dark. dry place in an airtight container. Oxygen, heat, and light are the enemy of spices. After using a spice make sure the lid is replaced and make a tight seal.
I love freshly grated nutmeg. Especially in cream-based sauces, gravies and grits. Buy a good grater and zester like Microplane It does a lot of different things for you and lasts a long time. It’s not just for spices. You can grate citrus zest, ginger, hard cheeses and it comes in multiple colors.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments. Get in touch with me through the Contact page or just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to know what you think.