Well actually, it’s two-part question.
First, does it really matter if you forget to add salt in a recipe that specifically calls for salt? The answer? Yes, it matters.
Let’s say for example you forgot to add the salt while you were preparing your favorite beef chili recipe. The chili will look okay. The missing salt won’t affect the appearance, but you will notice that your chili will taste just ever so flat. Even with the fact that all your other spices were not forgotten, your chili will still not pack it’s normal punch.
So say you do realize after the cooking process is complete that you forgot the salt, so you quickly stir it in after the fact. That should do the trick. You taste your chili and low and behold, now it’s salty! What happened? Well, that is part-two of the question.
Does it matter when you add your salt? Again, the answer is unequivocally – yes!
When you add your salt is just as important as whether you leave it out or not. Salt is a natural flavor enhancer. When it is added to an ingredient during the cooking process, the salt helps to bring the flavors of your ingredients to the surface. For example, when you’re browning your beef for your chili, the salt (kosher is preferable to iodized salt for this process) will help release the juices from your beef, which assists in carmelization (the slight crust that appears on your beef when browning) that ultimately gives your chili that wonderful, hearty beef flavor. The same process would apply if you also used tomatoes or garlic in your recipe. The salt binds to the tomatoes and garlic and unlocks their natural moisture during cooking thus helping spread their flavors throughout your chili as well. A good rule of thumb is to add your salt each time you add a new layer of ingredients to your recipe. This allows the salt to properly become incorporated within your ingredients.
So why did your chili taste salty when you tried to add the salt after the fact? In a nutshell, the salt never got a chance to become “one with the ingredients”. It dissolved into your chili but instead of tasting salt-enhanced flavors, your taste buds got a hit of salt first before it got to the underlying chili. This brings us to another good rule to follow. Always taste your food as you’re cooking. The best chance of fixing a problem of having too much or too little of something is during cooking, not after the dreaded “point of no return”!
By the way, iodized salt (i.e. table salt) grains are smaller than that of kosher salt so be careful! A teaspoon of iodized salt is not equivalent to a teaspoon of kosher which means you’re adding more salt with a teaspoon of iodized than you would with kosher.
I know. Who knew there could be so much to say about salt??