The Quickest Way to Get Better at Cooking
It's as easy as putting salt in a bowl.
It takes time and practice to be good at anything. But there are definitely things you can do that will help you learn almost anything more efficiently, and that includes cooking. I'm not here to tell you that you're going to be Thomas Keller tomorrow, but I will say that one of the easiest and most helpful tricks I learned on my road from casual home cook to someone who signed up for 100 hours of culinary school is something you can do in less than five minutes. It requires no special equipment and costs zero dollars. Put your salt in a bowl.
That's it. Put salt in a bowl.
In cooking, salt goes into almost everything. It's the backbone of all cuisine, which is why Samin Nosrat's book wasn't called Cumin, Fat Acid, Heat. You use salt to bring out the flavor that already exists in a dish. And how much you use isn't something that's easy to describe in terms of tablespoons and teaspoons. You salt something until the flavor comes into sharp definition, like focusing a pair of binoculars.
Adding "enough salt until it's properly seasoned" is one of those frustratingly vague haute cuisine tips like "cook until it's done." But the only real way to really hone your sensibility about how much salt is enough, not enough, or too much, is to do that yourself. For years, my salt lived in a box, a grinder, a shaker, or another container that allowed me to pour salt from it, but not easily pick it up. That, it turns out, makes it so much harder to estimate the quantity of salt you need for cooking. It's hard to visualize the quantity from a box. If you decant some of your salt into a small bowl, a pinch of salt is literally that—you pinch the salt and put it in. Sure, you can buy a fancy salt box if you want or have a salt cellar that looks pretty on your counter. But you can also just put salt in a small bowl whenever you're cooking, and you'll be amazed at how quickly you figure out what seasoning something means.
And just to be clear here, when I decant salt into a bowl, it's kosher salt, not your more expensive sea salt or super fine table salt. You can use whatever salt you have, but keep in mind that because the crystals are so much smaller, table salt tastes saltier than kosher salt, so you'll probably want to use less of it. But experiment and see what makes sense to you.
Putting salt in a bowl isn't glamorous or fancy, but it really will help you learn how to cook more intuitively.