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add to taste
how to cook by taste
by Yee-Fan Sun |
1 2 3

Read through any recipe in any cookbook and you're likely to encounter three little words: "Add to taste." Such a short phrase, such a simple concept … and yet, when your kitchen skills have heretofore been limited to dumping a can into a pot and throwing it all on a burner, when you've just started getting yourself acquainted with terms like "dice" and "mince" and "sauté," there's no doubt about it: "add to taste" is one of the most maddening phrases in the world.

Experienced cooks take it for granted that they know how a dish is supposed to taste. Armed with the benefit of a good understanding of how to add a little of this and a little of that until things taste just right, they adjust quantities to suit their fancy. They don't panic when a recipe instructs them to add something to taste; they're already doing everything to taste, whether the directions say to or not. For them, a recipe is just a rough guide, a point of inspiration.

For newbie cooks, however, it's a whole different story: recipes are to be followed religiously, because they provide critical guidance to that unknown culinary world. Unfortunately, even the most detailed recipes tend to assume that the folks reading them will have at least enough experience to know what it means to add salt and pepper to suit their own tastebuds. The idea is that by the time we're old enough to be puttering about in a kitchen attempting a meal, most of us have a developed a pretty good sense of when food tastes good to us, and seasonings like salt and pepper are common enough that we should know what they do to food. After all, you don't freak out when presented with shakers of salt and pepper to accompany your grilled steak, right? But when you're making your first forays into the scary world of real cooking, these kinds of vague add-to-taste directions can prove mighty daunting, as you find yourself wondering whether your dish doesn't taste quite right because you simply have to add more salt, or because you've added too much pepper, or because you've screwed up some other critical step.

As with most things in life, confidence will take you a long, long way. And training your tastebuds to distinguish how various ingredients actually affect flavor is key to developing the kitchen confidence to add salt, pepper, and just about any other ingredient to taste.

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