These 13 Salty Condiments Give Any Dish a Flavor Boost
How to perfectly season your favorite dishes in more ways than one
Flavor—it’s what takes eating from something we must do, to something we want to do. This article is part of “The Flavor Issue” our month dedicated to dialing up every dish and making every day taste better. To follow along, you can check back here for an overview of all our latest stories and recipes from the issue. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for behind the scenes, extra community content, and more! We hope to see you around Flavortown!
We are programmed to crave salt. Salt in itself is a mineral that we need to survive—in certain quantities and not without moderation. As well as seasoning, salt also enhances the flavors in food: Everything tastes much better when you find the right ratio. To do this, you sometimes have to salt properly and not too timidly—by taste and constant tasting—until the sauce or salad, risotto or polenta tastes just right. Salt, like other seasonings, is a necessity in almost every dish (yes, even sweets. The salt in these cookies, for example, balances the sweetness). But more importantly, it's the step that determines the success or failure of any meal. When you learn to use it properly (Which kind? Look here!) then your dishes will taste great.
And then there’s a technique that we can call “layering salt." This means not only using salt alone to season, but having a base using other salty (and usefully, often umami) ingredients. All dishes that use any of the alternative salt sources below benefit from this. Naturally, the various forms of salt in the dish must then be carefully weighed (literally and figuratively) so that you end up with a salted, but not over-salted, plate.
13 tasty sources of salt
Fermentation happens with salt: The salt draws out the water and the resulting salty liquid, called brine, preserves food. Kimchi adds spiciness and acidity to dishes in addition to salt.
The great thing about cured, salted, or pickled, ingredients is that you can control the salt content. With capers, this can be done by rinsing them or temporarily soaking them in water. Don't forget to drain and squeeze carefully afterwards!
The same applies here: The salt content of anchovies can be adjusted to your own taste (especially for salt-packed anchovies). I use them to add a pop of salt, on pizza (or in a pizza sauce), where capers also come in handy!
Salty cheeses like Parmesan, but also Pecorino or Feta, are often the last spark of flavor that ends up on a dish. Quite classically on pasta, but also on pizza. Here are more ways to use their magic:
Any cured meat (that is, heavily salted) can contain enough salt to flavor the dish of your choice. This includes bacon, but also pancetta, prosciutto, salami, and more. Many hearty dishes start by rendering the meat, meaning the fat in it is melted by heat. Whatever is next sautéed in this fat is then instantly seasoned.
6. Soy sauce
Soy sauce, made from fermented soybeans, is packed with salt and deep, dark umami flavor. It adds unmistakable depth to virtually anything it touches.
Like kimchi and sauerkraut, most other fermented vegetables are pickled in a mixture of water, salt and spices. Both the vegetables and the liquid in which they float are then very salty and are well suited for seasoning dishes. In this case, you can use the pickles (like gherkins and cornichons) for an egg-based dip with cooked artichokes, for example, and the brine as an add-on for sauces, dressings, or as a substitute for vinegar or lemon juice—wherever it fits the flavor profile.
8. Miso paste
Because there are so many varieties to choose from, with flavor profiles ranging from mild and sweet (light shiro miso, for example, for cookies or this ramen) to dark and bitter (for example, for dark sauces and intense meat marinades), you can select the one that best suits your dish.
Not all olives are the same and the salt content also differs immensely depending on the variety and brand, and whether they are preserved in oil or in brine. I like to try them first to see if they’ll work best in salads or kneaded into a dough.
10. Fish sauce
To me, fish sauce tastes like something between soy sauce and anchovies. To make fish sauce, anchovies are mixed with sea salt and placed in large pots, where fermentation then begins. It brings a bright, almost oceanic salinity, along with a depth of seafoody flavor.
The large amount of minerals contained within give seaweed its intense flavoring. It’s often used in Asian cuisines as a base for broths. And, of course, for sushi. Incidentally, the same salty umami flavors found in seaweed are also found in foods such as Parmesan cheese, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
12. Salted butter
Pretty self-explanatory, isn't it? Great in Breton butter cookies and in many (sweet) baking recipes or of course on good bread e.g. with rinsed anchovies?
Following on from what I said earlier: fish sauce is the baby of soy sauce and pickled anchovies, then gochujang is a mix of miso paste and Sriracha. The hot fermented seasoning paste from Korea tastes rich, spicy, sweet and, of course, salty. We absolutely love it!
Published on June 8, 2021