If you watch the Food Network on a regular basis, one thing you learn quickly is that every dish has salt and pepper. No matter what the dish is or what else is in it, at the end, they add salt and pepper.
So is this an unwritten food law that every dish has to have salt and pepper? What if I don't want salt and pepper?
I love to cook, but I have no salt and pepper in the house. I don't have the classic dark blue cylinder of salt. I don't even own salt and pepper shakers. If you came to visit, you would have to BYOS&P.
I used to own salt and pepper shakers. I even have used them. As an adult first on my own, I would salt the pasta water. I salted mashed potatoes. I put salt on a number of things.
After all, growing up, my mother would salt the water for spaghetti. So I did it, too. I went out and bought black pepper and filled the mill, even if I used it far less often than the salt.
As I did more cooking, I wondered what it would be like if I didn't add those items to the water. Surprisingly, everything went fine without them, so I stopped doing it.
After awhile, I stopped buying salt and pepper altogether. I didn't miss salt and pepper. Instead, I use a variety of spices and herbs in cooking. My kitchen would feel naked without basil, oregano, and garlic.
The cooks on TV tell you that you have to salt the water when boiling. After all, they say the cooking time speeds up when adding the salt right as it is boiling. So what? Recently on a Food Network show, I saw an explanation as to why you salt the water. The woman said it would season the pasta and that was a good thing. If there is an official "salt and pepper" law, she never mentioned it.
Another Food Network chef was reminding other chefs how everything had to have salt and pepper. You expect amateur chefs like me to do rote activities in the kitchen because their parents did it or because they've always done it that way.
But professional chefs should know better. They are role models for those of us who are learning on our own. It wouldn't hurt for them to say, "Salt and pepper to taste." Just because they are experts doesn't mean they're right. They aren't always right about salt and pepper, or for that matter, other ingredients they worship, such as balsamic vinegar and shallots.
Be your own chef. Be aware of what is out there, but don't fall victim to their expertise. If a food ingredient sounds good, try it. There is no harm in liking balsamic vinegar. But don't fall into the trap of saying "shallots" just because they cry out "shallots."
I'm sure that when they learned to cook, salt and pepper were considered important. And salt and pepper have a history together. Generations ago, they were some of the only spices used in kitchens. Then there's the whole history of salt as a preservative. But now, we have access to so many great tastes, worldly spices, vinegars, oils, marinades, and rubs.
Our tastes have progressed well beyond salt and pepper, but our food instruction hasn't. There are many advantages to not having salt and pepper around the house. There's no salt to spill, decreasing your chances for bad luck. There's no pepper to make you sneeze. Then there's that pesky high blood pressure issue helped by reducing or eliminating salt intake. And if you're worried about getting enough salt, just eat plenty of processed foods, especially soups and TV dinners.
Now you might think I'm a hypocrite because I use lemon pepper and seasoned salt. The difference is that I use them sparingly and far less than I use other spices. I use the lemon pepper in marinades that already have lemon juice. To be honest, I use it more because I already have it in the house. When I run out, I won't buy more.
As for the seasoned salt, I have two weaknesses: popcorn and meat. A little seasoned salt goes great on popcorn. And salt on meat is beneficial in a dry rub. Even then, it's not automatic.
So what do I use in lieu of salt and pepper? Well, I do use quite a bit of garlic powder. In fact, I just bought a 23 oz. container of garlic powder. If you put salt and pepper on everything, then everything will taste like salt and pepper. I love garlic but I don't put it on everything.
It's okay to use salt and pepper as long as you understand that you don't have to use them all the time. Cooking should be what you want, not what "they" tell you to do.
They are wise, that's true, and there are many things to learn from them. If you want to use salt and pepper, balsamic vinegar, shallots, or even garlic, that's fine. But don't be afraid to use what you want to use. Ultimately, when you pass on your great recipes, it would be nice to tell your children, "The salt and pepper is optional."