8 Food Seasoning Mistakes That Are Keeping You From Enjoying the Tastiest Meals Possible
If your home-cooked meals never quite come out tasting just the way that you want them to, there's a good chance that you might be missing the mark when it comes to seasoning. Don't worry — these mistakes are super common, and the great news is that they can almost always be easily remedied. Between salt levels and knowing which spices (and how much) to use, there's a lot to be learned about the art of perfectly seasoning your food. Here are some common food seasoning mistakes and how to avoid them for tasty, delightfully favored meals.
You're Not Using Enough Salt
This is by far the most common mistake among home cooks. If going to culinary school taught me anything, it's that salt is the key to making delicious, mouthwatering meals. Without salt, food doesn't taste like much, so it's important to get in the habit of actively using this stuff while cooking. Remember, not all salts are created equal. Kosher salt offers the ideal coarseness for day-to-day cooking (though it's worth keeping in mind that Morton kosher is about twice as salty as Diamond Crystal brand). If you try your food and it just tastes bland and boring, it likely needs a big pinch of salt. If you're concerned about adding too much salt, remember that you can always add more, but you can't take salt away once added. Sprinkle a little bit at a time, have a taste, and if you think it needs more, then keep adding more gradually.
You're Not Seasoning As You Cook
It's important to get into the habit of gently seasoning your food as you're cooking, throughout the entire process. If you're boiling pasta or potatoes or blanching vegetables, the water should be heavily salted. This way, the salty water can penetrate the food and season it, rather than simply hitting the outside of the food with seasoning after it's cooked. If you're sauteing aromatics like onions and garlic, that should always get a pinch of salt. When more components are added, give it another pinch. Again, you can always add more salt, but you can't take it back, so start with smaller pinches. And as you taste your food towards the end, you can always balance out the flavors by adding more salt.
You're Seasoning Too Close to Your Proteins
Seasoning any cut of protein is a step you cannot skip. Anything from chicken breasts to fish filets to a New York strip require a thorough sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. When it comes time to season the portion of protein, you want to hold your hand at least a foot above it so that the salt and pepper fall evenly across the entire piece of meat. If your hand is too close, you will have clumps of seasoning and it will not be uniformly dispersed.
You're Using Pre-ground Black Pepper
My absolute least favorite product in the entire grocery store is pre-ground black pepper. Its flavor is nothing compared to the earthy richness of freshly ground black pepper. Peppercorns, like any other whole spice, are most flavorful the moment that they're ground. The stuff in pre-ground jars can be months old, which means the flavor has significantly waned. Buy yourself a sleek pepper mill and make yourself a promise to never purchase the pre-ground stuff again.
You're Using Old Spices
While we're on the topic of avoiding pre-ground pepper, it's also worth pointing out that ground spices have expiration dates, too. Once they're past expiration, their flavors are muted and less potent. Always keep your spices in a cool, dry place, and if you've had a jar for upwards of nine months, it's probably a good idea to toss it and replace it with a fresh one.
You're Not Blooming Your Spices
The best way to get the most flavor out of your spices is to allow them to cook in any fat, which will help to unlock some of their flavor. Whether you're using whole spices like fennel seeds, cumin seeds, or mustard seeds or ground spices, they all need to be gently cooked in order to reach their full flavor potential. Add any hard herb ground spices, like dried thyme, parsley, oregano, or basil, early into cooking so that they have time to soften. You shouldn't be sprinkling your final dish with ground spices to finish, as these ingredients should always be cooked for optimal flavor.
Related: What Does It Mean to 'Bloom' Spices?
You're Not Seasoning With Any Acid
It's easy to forget that an important flavor to balance in any meal is acid. This is going to make your food pop. Even if food is properly salted, it's still going to miss that extra umph of flavor from a bright, acidic ingredient. Don't forget to add a squeeze of lemon or lime or a drizzle of your favorite vinegar to anything from salads, pastas, sandwiches, stir fries, soups, and roasted meats and veggies. Other acidic ingredients are tomatoes and yogurt, which can be another easy way to balance out your dishes.
You're Not Tasting the Dish
Regardless of what any recipe or measurement will tell you, the best way to know how to season your food is to continuously taste it as you go. This will not only train your palate to better identify what a dish is lacking, but it makes cooking more enjoyable. Recipes are great, but maybe you want your dish to be a bit spicier than what was intended, or you prefer a stronger garlicky flavor. All of these seasoning tweaks can be made by tasting and adjusting, rather than strictly following measurements. The only way that you're going to get better at seasoning your food is by tasting it and training your buds to know exactly what it needs.