Simply Salt?

The purpose of salt

The simplicity of salt makes it one of the most misunderstood and taken for granted ingredient in the spice cupboard.  Its complexity is over looked and it’s often misused.   I am here to demystify and debunk the notion that salt is anything but ordinary.

Once upon a time, there was a time when nobles ruled and peasants were tolerated.  In those days salt was considered a prize spice.  Tables were arranged in order of hierarchy.  Salt and pepper were placed at the “head” of the table where the nobles were allowed to use salt and pepper (once the single most expensive spice in the world).  Peasants were not allowed to use salt; they had to rely on herbs to flavor their food.

Interestingly, if the same social class restrictions were in place today, it would more than likely be the exact opposite.  Have you perused the spice and herb isle at the supermarkets lately?  Salt is practically free while the cost of herbs makes them somewhat a precious commodity, even though you can grow them in abundance in your very own windowsill or garden.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Simply put, salt is a flavor enhancer.  Just try cooking without it.  Your dishes, whether they be savory or sweet will turn out flat without it.   That being said, I also think that salt is one of the most misused ingredients in the kitchen.  I have had my share of dishes that either had too much, or too little salt.  It has a very direct impact on the flavor (and sometimes the texture!) of the dish.  Because people have varying opinions on how salty they like their foods, its best to season well so that people can add salt if they desire while leaving the dish palatable for those who do not like as much salt.

I believe it is best to use unsalted ingredients whenever possible so that you can control how much salt ends up in a dish.  This is also why it’s important to taste your food throughout the cooking process; season in layers and taste as you go.

Let’s look a little closer at cooking with salt.  Just walk down the spice isle and you may find yourself in awe at the many different choices you have when purchasing salt.  Kosher salt, canning salt, rock salt, table salt, or the French Fleur De Sel,  just to name a few.  I am not a fan of table salt.  The only use I see for it is in baking.  Most baking recipes do not take into account the difference in size granules of other salts.  Table salt has a bitterer flavor than other salts.  In other words, not good eats.   While Fleur De Sel is so expensive that I would only use it for a “finishing salt” (salt that is used after cooking, like a garnish you can’t see).

Salt should be added early on in the cooking process.  Salt (and pepper) added late in a dish may take on too harsh of a flavor.  Salt binds the flavors together; helps them meld and blend while enhancing their inherent flavors.  This is also why it’s important to properly salt the water when making pasta and rice; it’s the only opportunity you have to season these particular foods.  They will not absorb flavors as well once they are cooked and as I mentioned earlier, they will taste flat.  Salt perks up depth and complexity of dishes and baked goods while balancing flavors both sweet and savory.

This is just the bare basic essentials of salt.  I have not even begun to share how wonderful and amazing this spice truly is.  I have not touched on how it preserves food, how it can tenderize food, and other food science behind cooking with it.  It’s so much more than just an afterthought or simple ingredient.

I hope I have inspired you to really think about the ingredients you use in the kitchen.  There are entire books written solely on salt.  It really is amazing and its uses are endless.  I hope you take the time to explore the more intricate uses of salt in your own cooking.

Play with your food!!

If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.

~Fernand Point

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 12:43 PM  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I also believe that if your going to use salt, it should be a healthy salt. Healthy salt is sea salt, not table salt which is really just sodium disquised as salt. I have thrown out the Mortons, and use Redmond sea salt instead. It is amazing how much better food will taste. And this is coming from a salt hater.

  2. Salt was so highly valued in the Roman Empire that soldiers were often paid with it, hence the saying, “He’s worth his salt.” 🙂

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