What is the difference between seasoning and flavouring? When should vinaigrette be put on the salad? And the spices in the roast? Doubts about how and how much to season are among the most common in the kitchen: thanks to the overabundance of seasonings, many amateur chefs do not have a precise idea of how to use salt, spices, aromatic herbs and various condiments. Here is a small guide to doing it better.
The dressing is one of the most important steps in the kitchen: professional chefs know that even if they prepare everything to perfection, falling on the dressing is equivalent to failing the dish. This also applies to home cooking: how many times have you hated the salad drowning in its dressing? Or the overly spiced rice?
With this overabundance of spices, marinades and various seasonings, many home cooks have lost the ability to season food correctly: with little seasoning the food will be bland, with too much the food will taste more like the seasoning than your own. It all lies in adding not only the right amount of spices, salt and herbs, to improve the dish without overwhelming its flavour but also the most suitable ones.
The difference between seasoning and flavouring
It might not seem that obvious, but one thing is seasoning and another thing is flavouring. Salt is a condiment that serves to enhance the natural flavour of food without modifying it, with aromas, on the other hand, adds something to the flavour of the food by modifying it slightly. Of course, salt can also be used for flavouring, as in the case of savoury pretzels. Likewise, some spices that would normally be used as flavouring (for example cinnamon) can also be used to enhance the natural sweetness of a dish.
The most important thing to remember is that you cannot improve poor quality ingredients by adding seasoning. If your main ingredients are of high quality, you are already halfway there. Remember that condiments and aromas are used to enhance the flavour of a dish, not to “repair” a bad dish.
When to season
In the recipes, you may have noticed that very often the last instruction is “season to taste”. In most liquid-based foods this is the most important step and there is a reason why it is listed last: before seasoning, in fact, you will need to evaluate your dish as a whole. Only then can you decide how to season it.
When cooking more substantial foods – perhaps a roast or a whole chicken – salt and other seasonings are added already in the first stage of cooking, but also in the last. By adding the salt only at the end, this would not have time to penetrate the meat and act correctly. Remember that as the food cooks, part of the liquid will dry up, concentrating the aroma: keep this in mind, to avoid an overly seasoned final dish.
When to flavor
Herbs and spices can be added during the cooking process, in the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. It all depends on the cooking time, the cooking method and the aroma you are using. Only certain aromas can be added at the end of cooking, perhaps a pinch of Worcestershire sauce, wine to deglaze, brandy for a flambé cooking. Even aromatic herbs, if fresh, should be added just before completing the dish, so as not to make them soft.
However, there are ingredients that need heat to release their aroma: this is why whole spices, when preparing a curry, are cooked first or added to cooking over high heat. Ground spices are also cooked first but release their flavour more quickly.
Remember that the longer you cook the food, the greater the loss of flavour. It’s all about getting the right balance of cooking that is long enough to flavour the food, but still short to avoid loss of flavour. If the dish you are preparing only requires a short cooking time, it would be perfect to add herbs and spices at the beginning or in the middle. If you need to cook a dish with long cooking, however, you’d better add spices and flavourings throughout the whole process, from start to finish.
Liquid condiments: vinaigrette and marinades
If, on the other hand, you are preparing a dish such as a salad, or roasted vegetables, we suggest you prepare a liquid dressing, such as a vinaigrette or a Citronette. On the lettuce salad, or on the Pinzimonio, the vinaigrette will be put just before bringing the dish to the table, to avoid watering it down or softening it. On roasted vegetables, potato salad or chicken salad, on the other hand, a little earlier, to help them absorb the dressing. Finally, the marinade, a separate chapter: a condiment that must be put on the product to be cooked well in advance, because it must be absorbed.
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