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I just thought about how seasoning a sauce is not a wise decision because if it needs to through reduction like marinara then the flavors would get too concentrated. But I always see people put salt and pepper into sauces before they are properly reduced so maybe there is a reason to season before a big reduction?

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First of all, people indeed often add some seasoning in the beginning, but are usually careful with the amount, especially with salt. Flavor-wise, you could add it at the end, after the reduction and be fine.

However, salt can also affect the process of cooking. For instance, it can draw moisture out of some vegetables when frying them first, meaning that they will be cooked a bit faster. That is why some salt can be added at the beginning. At the end, after the reduction, you should taste and add some more seasoning, if needed.

  • What about herbs? I found that letting my reduced sauce simmer with herbs/garlic spreads the taste in a satisfactory fashion (though I never had the chance to taste something else so...) – Bar Akiva Mar 21 '16 at 15:01
  • @BarAkiva: garlic will cook in, but herbs will often lose their flavor if you cook them! – Jacob Krall Mar 21 '16 at 15:11
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    @JacobKrall Fresh herbs, yes. Dried herbs will require and tolerate lengthy cooking to extract their flavor. – logophobe Mar 21 '16 at 15:33
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    Yeah I do add dry herbs mid cooking and add fresh herbs right at the end. I adding fresh herbs by the time you turn off the heat good enough? @logophobe – Bar Akiva Mar 21 '16 at 16:01
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    It depends on the herb, and the amount of it, as well. For instance, the flavor of salt tends to fade into other flavors with cooking. When reducing, you can end up with a "salty" dish that has little flavor of salt. Garlic and onion flavors tend to become much more gentle with cooking. Adding them late will leave the flavoring sharper and more notable. Cilantro changes completely when cooked. I would tend to think, as the original question noted, that adding salt and pepper before reduction is a mistake, although not necessarily one that can not be overcome. – Corvus B Mar 21 '16 at 20:06
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If by "season" you mean salt, then add it after the reduction. Depending on the recipe, there are herbs and spices that you want to cook with the liquid. Reduction is the evaporation of water and does result in concentration of flavor...because of this it is very easy to get a result that is overly salty if you salt and then reduce.

  • I don't see how it would be easier to get an overly salty result when you salt before reducing. The amount of salt stays the same, add the same at the beginning or end... for a homogeneous sauce there shouldn't be any difference. (For anything chunky it will make a difference, because the salt affects osmosis... but in the sauce itself that it instantaneous. – leftaroundabout Mar 21 '16 at 20:48
  • @leftaroundabout put it this way...dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a 1/4 cup of water, dissolve another teaspoon of salt in 4 cups of water...taste...which one is saltier? So, if you season your 4 cups of stock to taste with salt, then reduce to 1/4 cup, it would be too salty, as the salt is not evaporating. – moscafj Mar 21 '16 at 21:21
  • Why would you season anything to taste at an early cooking stage? That doesn't work for any ingredient, as the taste obviously changes during the cooking process. – leftaroundabout Mar 21 '16 at 21:27

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