The Omnivore’s Outtake: Seasoning Secrets

July 24 2014, 10:30 AM

If you read my reviews, you might have noticed that in the middle of otherwise favorable accounts, I often write about a chef’s heavy hand with salt or plates needing more acid. Across several visits to the Plimoth, however, not once did I note any seasoning mishaps. Instead, chef-owner Peter Ryan’s food was flawlessly seasoned—every visit, every dish, every bite.

An elusive but all-important balance of salt, acid, and fat is one of the most basic attributes of good food. At the same time, it’s one of the easiest things to overlook or overdo. The fact that Ryan consistently got it right made me wonder how he does it. Is he salting his food while it marinates, cooks, rests, or all of the above? Does he have an unusually regimented system for assigning responsibility to the prep cook, the line cook, the expeditor, or all of the above?

Ryan confirmed my hunch that seasoning at the Plimoth happens throughout the cooking process. “Before a piece of pork is grilled it is seasoned, when it is sliced it is then seasoned again,” he says. “[You] gotta get the inside, no?” Vegetables are blanched in salted water, a salted Pollock brandade gets both lemon juice and a swirl of crème fraîche. Such dishes are then seasoned once more before they head to the dining room. “We train our cooks on palate development every day and we aim for having one “Plimoth palate,” a unified seasoning front so that our food is consistent,” executive chef Charles MacDonald says. But the effort doesn’t stop with the cooks. MacDonald revealed that all staffers are responsible for seasoning, even the servers. “We taste them daily on dishes and get feedback from them as to how the cooks can adjust,” MacDonald said. “We literally go through hundreds of spoons a day.”

In short, “you have to be meticulous and thoughtful on all points in order to present the best flavors possible,” Ryan says. His closing comment about being meticulous shouldn’t have surprised me. Ryan addresses seasoning with the same “secret” weapon that makes so much of the Plimoth a success: A remarkable attention to the tiniest details—even those as fine as, well, a grain of salt.

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock