The secrets of proper seasoning
There are three skills that define a chef: use of heat, use of knives and use of salt. If you can master all three, then you will become a master chef. However, many cooks, especially American home cooks, are afraid to use salt in their dish. However, these fears can be laid to rest with these tips and a little practice in the proper, judicious and timely use of salt.
The importance of salt
Salt is vital to the outcome of the dish for a number of reasons. First, chemically, it does interesting things to various ingredients in a dish including promoting browning, removing liquid, etc. More importantly, if you remember from elementary biology class, your tongue has a whole set of taste buds dedicated to nothing but tasting salt. Unlike sour or bitter or sweet taste buds which have multiple things that can trigger them, only salt can trigger the salt taste buds. Therefore, if you neglect salt, you are neglecting a big part of your tongue.
The general rule of proper seasoning
How do you know when to add salt? Anytime you add something to your dish, make sure you are adding salt. That's somewhat of a generalization, but it is also a good rule of thumb to live by. Of course, the salt you add doesn't necessarily need to be in the form of white crystals. It can also come from sauces (in particular soy sauce), Parmesan cheese, bacon and other already salty ingredients. Still, no matter what you are adding, you need to ensure that there is enough salt in the dish that it will not be diluted.
Why salt meat
As mentioned above, salt does interesting things chemically to the ingredients in your dish before your tongue ever touches it. One of the most important things that salt does to ingredients is draw moisture out of them. In meat, drawing out moisture helps the Maillard reaction (the fancy name for the browning of meat), which means that more water is pulled from the meat, increasing its flavor and promoting greater browning and development of flavor.
Why salt vegetables
The same goes for vegetables as for meat. When salt comes in contact with vegetables, it helps to pull liquid out of them. This is great for very watery vegetables like mushrooms, which can be soggy and squishy if they retain too much water. Being near salt draws out the water and, oftentimes, lets other flavors find their way in.
Why salt baked goods
Lastly, you'll notice that a lot of baked goods call for small amounts of salt, even in cakes, cookies and other desserts. Can you guess why that might be? It's strange, but just the minute amount of salt most baked goods recipes call for (sometimes as little as one-eighth of a teaspoon), is enough to stimulate the salt taste buds and help to promote browning of the dish. Both improve the overall appeal of the baked good and how much you'll love it.