If there’s one ingredient that can make or break a dish, it’s salt. On the one hand it’s almost impossible to cook a passable dish without it. Salt can enhance colour as well as flavour. It can add texture, bind ingredients, and act as both preservative and a source of nutrients. On the other hand, throw in just a smidgen too much and the whole meal’s ruined.
So how do you judge how much salt your dish needs? And what can you do when you’ve already added too much salt?
Read on to avoid any future salt catastrophes in the future. And you might even enjoy taking a diversion first by learning about all the different kinds of salts here.
How to measure salt amount for your recipes
There are a few things you need to know about salt in order to master it. The first thing to bear in mind is that salt behaves in different ways depending on when you add it to food.
Adding salt early on in the cooking process will draw liquid out of the food. That’s why it’s such an essential part of the brining process. If making a coleslaw, for example, salting your cut cabbage first will remove some of the cabbage’s bitterness, stop your coleslaw from getting too soggy, and enable it to be kept for longer without spoiling.
In this early stage you can use quite a bit of salt without the final result tasting too salty. But if you were to add the same amount of salt upon serving, your coleslaw would be inedible. That’s because that initial salting is to alter the chemistry of the food and affect its natural flavours. That final sprinkle of salt is just, well, adding the taste of salt.
Here’s a rough guide on how much salt to add, courtesy of The Spruce Eats:
- 1 teaspoon per quart for soups and sauces
- 2 teaspoons per pound for boneless raw meat
- 1 teaspoon per 4 cups flour for dough
- 1 teaspoon per 2 cups liquid for cooked cereal
- 1 teaspoon per 3 cups water for boiled vegetables
- 1 tablespoon per 2 quarts water for pasta
Remember, this guide isn’t the be all and end all. Another thing to bear in mind when adding salt is how much sodium your ingredients already contain. Fortunately, most foods don’t contain much, but if using bacon, anchovies, capers, or salty cheeses like feta, you’ll obviously want to lower the amount of additional salt. Using anchovies in your pasta sauce? Then you might want to use a bit less salt in the pasta water.
Remedies for too salty food
Okay, so you read that a little too late. You’ve got a salty soup on the stove and you need to know how to cut saltiness as soon as possible. Let’s get into it.
A common method used is to add a whole potato. Supposedly it will soak up much of the salt, cutting the amount of salt once you simply discard the cooked potato. It’s a nice idea in theory, but the truth is you’re unlikely to notice much difference.
However, the reasoning behind it is far from absurd. A potato will add more bulk and more starch to the pot. But you can get the same effect by adding, say, a thick slice of bread. Let’s look at some more reliable ways to fix too much salt using extra bulk or starch.
Firstly, by bulking up your dish you are effectively diluting it, lowering the concentration of salt. If possible, you can simply add more of the same ingredients, but this might not be an option if you think they won’t cook fully at this stage of preparation. Frankly, the most failsafe method is simply to cook another batch of the food, this time without salt, and then mix it in with the batch that’s too salty.
Adding starchy ingredients follows a similar principle as it will effectively bulk up your dish too. But stirring in some cooked (and unsalted, obviously) rice, barley, or other grains, and even pasta or couscous, will absorb quite a bit of the salt. You’ll also need to add a bit more liquid too, but things should soon balance out. If you want to know how to make gravy less salty, or even a sauce or soup, this is an excellent method. Depending on just how salty the food was to begin with, it’s up to you whether to sieve out the starchy ingredients once they’ve done their job, or simply blend them right in with a soup gun.
There is another method too, although it won’t be suitable for all dishes. Adding a splash of vinegar can help tone down the saltiness if you’ve gone just a little over the top. Of course, you’ll need to be careful not to make the dish too vinegary instead.
Advice from famous chefs
If none of those solutions sounds quite right for the dish you’re trying to save, where better to turn than some of the culinary world’s most renowned chefs?
There are very specific solutions for fixing specific ingredients, and you’ll find a few of them over at Brit + Co. They include using additional fats and acids, as well as variations on the techniques mentioned above. Alternatively, Well + Good has a few .tips from chefs Shauna Faulisi, Jenny Dorsey and Carla Contreras