The no-salt challenge is to add salt by using ingredients, not table salt. This will force you to be creative. Lock your salt up and use some of the below ingredients for a week. You probably have some lying around. Food rules are meant to be broken. Here's a list of what you can add to food to improve the taste without reaching for the salt shaker.
You could title this article / class "Seasoning Tips for Improving Flavor" or "How Chefs Season Food" or "How To Season Food Using Salty Ingredients" but the gist is that table salt is often the last option for many experienced cooks for layering in salts (especially in cooking from around the world). Historically, salt may not have even been available or too expensive, so it is important to look around the globe for inspiration.
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Pecorino / Parmesan / Salty Cheese
Salty cheeses are a time-honored way to add salt to food. Shave pecorino with a vegetable peeler over salad or pair grilled halloumi with fresh grapes for a quick sweet and salty combo. People overthink cheese and keep it limited to pasta or salad. Try shaking cheap shaker parmesan over fried rice or onto grilled peaches. Look at the parmesan shaker like a salt shaker and let your imagination run wild.
Many countries fully substitute salt for fish sauce, it’s on many tables in SE Asia and can be dropped into soup or broth or over fried rice to adjust seasoning. People make the mistake of thinking it tastes fishy (which it does on its own) but a drop or two is undetectable and adds big umami salty flavor. Try a couple of drops over wings, lasagna or pizza to realize its secret agent power. Make a paradigm shift, fish sauce is not just for Thai dishes, it works on foods from Texas too.
Want to try some unique fish sauce? Bliss Barrel Aged Fish Sauce
Soy Sauce - Indonesian Kecap Mais
For some, Soy sauce is a dip for sushi but it is a powerful salt-giving giant. Use it in any marinade of course but it’s also excellent to season broths or any salad dressing. In Indonesia, the sticky-sweet Kecap Manis is used as a glaze, dip or marinate. No sea salt is needed.
Chili salts, smoked salt, citrus salt. Lots of background flavor can come from seasoning your food using a flavored salt.
Some Salts We Recommend:
If you've had a simple caesar salad you like anchovies in some form. Whether they are tucked into a pasta sauce like puttanesca or minced and added to queso dip they have huge flavor bomb potential that can go unnoticed. They are also very cheap last forever. We would argue you could slip 1/2 teaspoon of minced anchovy and garlic into any comfort dish and it would taste fuller, bigger and more well-rounded.
Salted Pickles - Capers - Cornichons
Pickles add crunch but also lots of salt. From fancy Japanese pickles to capers to supermarket dills you can leave them chunky or grated them with a cheese grater or microplane. A good example of the power of pickles as a seasoning agent is Tartar Sauce. Try adding diced cornichons or capers as the base for a quick pasta sauce or broth.
Kombu / Seaweed
Sure you can add a leaf of kombu to traditional Japanese dashi broth but try it in your next chicken stock or vegetable soup to add deep umami. Dust some Furikake on your next piece of grilled fish or toss wakame salad into a standard potato salad recipe. Don’t overlook seaweed in everyday recipes. It adds great salt and satisfaction and seaweed is very healthy.
How to Use Olives to add salt in cooking:
Chop and add to pasta
Pit, halve and add to a salad
Use the brine to marinate anything
Use the brine in a cocktail
Sauté vegetables in butter and chopped olives
Think of olives as salt with a chewy textures
Bacon - Jerky - Biltong
Fry jerky in some oil and you’ll get meaty umami-infused oil you can use in a salad dressing or roast vegetables in it and use the crispy jerky bits to sprinkle on the top in both cases.
Jerky / Biltong we recommend: Righteous Felon Jerky
Crumbled Snack Foods (Pretzels / Chips / Saltines / Cheetos)
You have an entire pantry of salt waiting to be deployed, it’s called any snack. By default most popular snacks are salty and crunch (just read this book mindless eating). That means you can crumble almost anything into a crunchy salty topping from saltine crackers to dust over pasta, a salad or tucked into a sandwich to more exotic American delights like Cheetos used as a schnitzel coating and crumbled potato chips on a baked potato.
"Just crumble snacks over food, soups pasta or grind into power in a mortar pestle"
The point here is to reduce inventory and increase the throughput of the food you buy. Food in your pantry is just cash sitting in your cupboards so knowing how to cook becomes knowing how to liquidate assets. If you buy more food this week instead of cooking with the food you already have you are paying twice to eat because many of those items will expire.
Ham, Proscuitto Speck South Tyrol
How to season fish and keep it moist at the same time? Wrap it in ham like prosciutto. Why do bacon-wrapped scallops taste so good? Seasoning from the bacon and moisture retention. Cantaloupe and Prosciutto, bacon and eggs all these things taste good because of sugar, salt and sweet balancing together. You can add anything from chopped fried deli meat to South Tyrol speck to any grilled vegetables tossed with olive oil and it will taste better.
Sea Salt is pretty one-dimensional. Where things like crushed olives or crispy bacon add salt and texture. In fact, bacon adds umami, crispness, sweetness and salt. It checks 80% of the necessary boxes of a great dish on it’s own. The point is, start looking at ingredients as a way to add salt, not just powders. Very quickly you will start working through unused inventory (and spent money) in your pantry.
Salty condiments and ingredients give any dish a flavor boost when used correctly. Experiment and be creative in adding salt with ingredients before restoring to table salt.
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