When boiling, poaching, or blanching, it’s important to season your cooking water. It’s easy to skip this step, but doing so is a missed opportunity. Adding salt to cooking water seasons the inside of your food, whether you’re making noodles or beans. This is science at work. Osmosis transports water into and out of cells. As the cooking water enters the food, it brings salt with it, flavoring the inside of whatever you’re cooking. How much salt to add to cooking water depends on your ingredients and preparation method.
As a general rule, the shorter the cooking time, the more salt you should add to your cooking water. Keep in mind that not all salt is the same size. Kosher salt has large, flaky crystals, while table salt has fine grains. A teaspoon of table salt contains significantly more flavoring power than a teaspoon of kosher salt. If you were to swap salts without adjusting measurements, you’d risk over or under seasoning your dish. If a recipe calls for table salt, you substitute kosher salt if you increase the amount by ¼ teaspoon per teaspoon.
When blanching vegetables like green beans or peas, the ingredients will only be submerged in the liquid for a few minutes. This doesn’t give them a lot of time to absorb salt. To accomplish proper seasoning, the cooking water should be extremely salty. For 5 quarts of water, add ½ cup of salt to achieve the best flavor. If you were to taste the water directly it would be unpalatable, but when the vegetables come out they will have a mild and savory flavor.
When it comes to pasta water, Serious Eats suggests that the ideal salinity is 1-2%, depending on your taste preferences. This translates to 1 ½ teaspoons of salt per liter of water. The average pasta pot has a 6-8 quart capacity. If it’s filled three quarters full, you’re using 4-5 quarts of water. To achieve 1% salinity, you’d need to use 2.3 Tablespoons of table salt in 5 quarts of water. A liter is slightly smaller than a quart, but don’t bother getting too caught up in the conversions. Use this rule as a guideline, and don’t add significantly less.
For boiling potatoes, you’ll need a lot of salt. Most potatoes are very mild, and thoroughly seasoning them will bring out their best flavor. Season with 1 tsp of table salt per pound of potato.
When it comes to dried beans, the advice is mixed. Some sources say to avoid adding salt until the end of the cooking process to achieve the best texture. When we’re cooking, flavor is our primary goal. To season your beans while cooking, add 1 tsp of table salt per pound of dried beans along with enough water to cover them.
Proper seasoning during every step of the process is the best way to ensure a flavorful dinner. Once you’re done cooking, don’t toss that water! Check out our guide to pasta water for more ideas.