For a long time, we were intimidated by that innocent little phrase at the end of the recipe: "Adjust seasonings to taste." If we don't know what the dish is supposed to taste like, how are we supposed to season it? Well, here's what we've learned to do!
When we are almost finished cooking and it comes time to check the seasonings, we always follow this checklist:
1. Does It Need Salt? - Nine times out of ten, it does. Salt reduces bitterness and amplifies other flavors in a dish. We add it a half-teaspoon at a time until we can taste those two things happen and just before the dish actually tastes salty.
2. Does It Need More Spices? - The amounts of spices given in a recipe are usually just a guideline. You may want more or less depending on the freshness and quality of your spices, and on your personal taste. When we taste a dish at the very end, we think about whether enough of the spice flavors are coming through and if they're in balance. Then we add a few more pinches to compensate.
3. Does It Need Some Acidity? - If the flavors still don't shine after we've already added salt and adjusted the spices, the next option is to add a bit of acid. Lemon juice is our top choice, but another citruses, vinegar, wine, or a splash of hot sauce are also work well. These will brighten the flavors in a dish.
4. Does It Need More Depth? - If the flavors seem ok, but the dish lacks that lingering savoriness, try adding something with a lot of umami. We often add a few teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce. You can also mince a few anchovies or add a tablespoon of tomato paste.
5. Does It Need More Richness? - Sometimes a dish doesn't necessarily need more flavor, it needs something to bring the flavors together. A few tablespoons of butter or a glug of cream will do the trick.
What are your tips for getting the seasonings in a dish just right?
Related: Taste Boosters: Eight Ways to Add Smoky Flavor to a Dish
(Image: Flickr member geishaboy500 licensed under Creative Commons)