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When cooking meat with dry heat, should we salt before or after the meat is cooked?

There are two antipodal, and sometimes contentious, schools of thought on this issue. The season-before-cooking faction argues that unless you sprinkle the salt on the meat before starting the cooking process the salt does not have a chance to infuse the food and trigger a chemical flavor-enhancing reaction.

The salt-after-cooking clique asserts that presalting draws out moisture unnecessarily from the cooking meat and therefore makes it tougher. Moreover, this group maintains, the salt does not penetrate the flesh entirely, and accordingly, the cooked meat is unevenly seasoned. A slice from a roast that was salted before cooking verifies their point: The edges taste saltier than the center.

The pros and cons of each argument more or less balance out, so follow whichever precept your grandmother taught you. Salting steak that is to be cooked on a flat surface, such as saute pan, is another matter. If you presalt the meat, your steak will suffer. As the salt-leached juices exude from the underside of the steak, they boil or turn to steam, giving that face a mushy consistency and a surface that is pallid grayish brown rather than an appealing rich brown. We prefer a compromise solution: Salt each side of a steak after its final turning.

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09:25:49 on 01/02/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -