The Thing That Makes Restaurant Salads Taste Better Than Yours

Have you ever noticed that everything in a restaurant seems to taste better than what you make at home? Not that your home-cooked meals aren’t delicious, but there often seems to be something that sets the flavor of a restaurant meal apart. There are a number of factors contributing to this distinction (such as the fact that restaurants have a whole army of professional prep cooks getting dinner ready… and you only have you), but one of the most prominent and easily addressed in the home kitchen is this: Restaurant chefs use salt for more liberally than the many home cooks.

Watch any TV chef, and they will tell you over and over to “season your food at EVERY stage of cooking.” Now, what this does is make every ingredient going into the dish taste “right;” it does not make the overall meal taste too salty. “Too salty” usually comes from adding all of your salt at the end. And that is, generally, not what you want. Unless it’s a dish that begs to be finished off with a salty bite—salted caramel comes to mind.

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That said, I’m about to suggest another dish that truly does beg for a bit of a salty, crunchy finish: Salad.

I’m sure you put some salt in your vinaigrettes. And if you incorporate mustard, that also brings salt to the party. But, my suggestion is to go lighter on the salt in the dressing, and, after you lightly dress your salad, finish the dish with a gentle sprinkling of good, crunchy sea salt. I am not enough of a scientist to explain just why this late salt addition seems to deepen the flavor of the greens, but it does. What I do know is that a small amount of salt does boost the umami component of food. And we perceive umami-rich foods as more flavorful and mouthwatering. And I’ve tried it on all sorts of greens—arugula, Romaine, butter lettuces, radicchio, even iceberg. Salting is a game-changer. I admit I stumbled on this trick one night when I wasn’t sure if I’d salted the vinaigrette at all (I had), and it was a real eye opener. Especially in a simple green salad situation (think great fresh greens, fresh soft herbs, and good olive oil and vinegar), that little salty crunch is just pure magic.

Try this. Just start with a small pinch of the good stuff on a very plain, lightly dressed one-person portion of salad. See what you think. I’m betting that, like me, this will be your salad Modus Operandi from now on.

P.S. You’ll want to pull this salting move at the very last moment. Salt can wilt delicate greens if it sits for too long.

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