Samin Nosrat salts pasta water by the handful.
To be honest, this was alarming to read in her cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. By the HANDFUL? My little narrative-making mind has a thousand questions: How big is the handful? Like, a little handful, or a big handful? How big is the pot of water? What if the pasta is fresh instead of dried? Ugh, it’s probably fresh instead of dried because this tip is coming from Samin Nosrat, who worked at Chez Panisse, who worked at Eccolo, who probably makes fresh pasta in her sleep!
Okay, okay, the rational part of my brain concedes, even Samin cooks with dried pasta. Regardless, the same general salting rule applies: A liberal hand is required to land dinner in the happy place called Delicious Food on Samin’s Salt Flavor Spectrum between Blah and Sea Water.
Salt's purpose isn’t just to make things salty-tasting—in fact, rarely is that the primary reason we use salt: It makes flavor “zing!,” as Samin realized when, much to her alarm, Cal Peternell added three palmfuls of salt to a pot of polenta she’d been stirring. “Some indescribable transformation had occurred,” she writes. “The corn was somehow sweeter, the butter richer. All of the flavors were more pronounced.”
Zing! Zing! Zing!
The trick, of course, is to use salt smarter rather, necessarily, than in greater quantities. Experiment with adding a little more salt than usual, or where you wouldn’t normally: Sprinkle it over brownies or a sundae dressed with hot fudge (or a piece of buttered and jammed toast, like I do), add a true handful to your pasta or vegetable cooking water, really generously season a chicken inside and out, and see what happens.
There is a reason that salt is the first chapter of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Properly seasoning—and learning to salt, taste, and adjust—might be the most basic way to begin to change your cooking, but it may also be the most revolutionary. And how we salt will affect how, later on, we negotiate a food’s acid and fat levels, and how we introduce heat to the mix.