Tuesday, January 05, 2010

How's it taste? Needs salt

Salting one's food may be one of the more pressing issues of the day. It certainly is in culinary school, where seasoning to taste -- that means salt and pepper -- is the rule of thumb.

But to who's taste? For culinary students, it's the chef/instructor. Chef Dan Fluharty grades our plates, including seasoning. In most cases with my offerings so far, undersalting has been the issue. It seems the same with other students, so on Monday, Chef took us through a "salt band" exercise.

He set five numbered paper cups on a table, each containing milk. All but one had been salted to a different level. We tasted No. 2 first, followed by 3, then a sip of acidic water to clear the palate. Cup 4, followed by the water, then cup 5. Each tasted increasingly salty, with No. 5 registering with all of us as too salty. At Chef's instruction, we all cleansed our palates again, then went to cup No. 1. The taste was very bland; no salt had been added.

The exercise helped us gain perspective on salt flavor. A little aggressiveness with salting may be in order for me, and perhaps my fellow students.

Some complicating factors: As we grow older, our taste buds become less sensitive; a cold or other illness or a scorched tongue from spicy food or hot food can dull the taste buds; tasting ability differs from person to person.

Health specialists tell us that too much salt is not good for our hearts or blood pressure. Use of salt in general has decreased in restaurant cooking over the years, according to Chef.

Nevertheless, it is an irreplaceable component of good cooking and flavor. Salting to the right taste is an ongoing learning process and an ever-present need.

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