Do You Really Need to Season Both Sides of the Meat?
We did a side-by-side test to find out.
I tend to question all of the "unquestionable" kitchen rules (as you may have noticed). But, until recently, there was one that I always obeyed. That rule is, basically, when cooking meat, both sides have to be seasoned equally. This makes sense. You want every bite to be perfectly seasoned...exactly like every other bite. This rule made so much sense that I continued on, blithely salting and peppering both sides, without a second glance. But then, of course, came that moment when I thought "Now wait just a minute…"
That moment came, not when seasoning a big piece of pork, or beef, a thick fish steak, or even a fat, whole chicken breast — it came when I was prepping a sliced and pounded out piece of chicken breast. (That's the way I most frequently cook chicken breasts, a schnitzel or a very quick saute.) These pieces were approximately ⅛-inch-thick, after slicing and pounding. In my mind, I started to question whether the extra step of seasoning both sides was A.) necessary, and B.) worth it. I decided on a side-by-side test, because I really think that that's the only way to know for sure. So I sliced and pounded out two pieces. I salted and peppered both sides of the first one, and then salted and peppered only one side of breast number two.
Using two pans (because I didn't want any of the seasonings from the first breast to adhere to the second breast and "contaminate" the results), I sauteed both breasts at the same heat, in the same amount of evoo, for the same amount of time. I was a little bit taken aback by the results. The doubly seasoned breast tasted exactly as usual; after all, that's the way I always make them. Then I tasted breast number two...it tasted really good. It did not taste as if it lacked seasoning. And then, here's the kicker: I then tasted the first breast again, and it tasted salty.
Now, I am not a cook who shies away from salt. I love the taste, and I love the effect salt has on food. In fact, I believe under-seasoning food is one of the most common unintentional crimes committed by home cooks. But, when all was said and done, I liked the second — single seasoned side — breast better.
My conclusion? When cooking thick pieces of meat, I will continue to season both sides. Why? Because, with a thick piece, there is every chance I will not eat both sides at once. However, when cooking something very thin, like a pounded piece of chicken or a thin fillet of fish, I will save myself that extra step, and only season one side. Because every bite I take will include both the top and bottom sides. I love discovering new things in the kitchen!