Sunday, October 4, 2015

Culinary Corner: Salt Primer

This installment of Culinary Corner, written by Elizabeth Hinds, focuses on a non-vegetable item.  But, we have found that a judicious amount of salt for certain produce for a given preparation method can alter the overall taste significantly.   Tammy and I greatly reduced our salt intake many years ago in response to some health issues and, in our personal opinion, salt is often over-used or over-applied.  We have found that reduced use of salt overall has increased the positive impact a little salt can have.  We are known to periodically put a little finishing salt on steamed vegetables as an extra taste treat.  Enjoy Elizabeth's insights!

The most important lesson I learned at culinary school was not to skimp on the salt. I’ve been exposed to a number of fun salts in restaurant kitchens, but there are a small group of favorites I always keep on hand at home.

Kosher Salt
The name of this salt is somewhat misleading. Technically, all salt is considered kosher because all salts are just minerals. Where kosher salt gets its name is from the process of koshering meat. To prepare kosher meat, the surface is salted to draw out the extra blood. Coarse salt simply rolls off the surface, and fine grain table salt will stick, but the granules are so dense that by the time the meat is coated, it’s oversalted and actually begins to cure the meat. Kosher salt’s light and flaky texture allows it to stick to the surface of the meat, but is light enough to draw out the blood without making the meat tough. The same light flakiness that makes it perfect for koshering meat is also my favorite characteristic for cooking. The same volume of kosher salt has less sodium than standard table salt, and it dissolves much faster. What this means for the cook is that you can add kosher salt to whatever you’re cooking and immediately taste the difference. Coarser salts take longer to dissolve, and it’s easier to over-season if you don’t wait long enough between adding the salt and tasting. I’m somewhat impatient, so kosher is my favorite for cooking.
Favorite Brand: Diamond Kosher salt at Hyvee. 

Table Salt
Most table salts contain the very important element: Iodide. Iodide is essential for thyroid health, and this is one of my favorite salts for making pasta and soups. In large amounts of water, the salt dissolves quickly enough that it’s harder to overseason, and if you do, the stuff you add to the liquid does a pretty good job absorbing the extra salt and balances things out.
Favorite Brand: Store brand works great, just make sure to grab something with iodide in it! 

Sea Salts
These are the fun exotic salts you often find in sampler packs in a variety of colors. The Himalayian pink salts, the black Hawaiian volcano salts, and the red clay salts are prime examples of mineral-rich, natural salts. Each of these varieties has their own distinct flavors and aromas and are best used as finishing salts. To find your favorites, I would recommend the bread and butter test: Lightly salting a slice of buttered bread allows you to taste the differences between the varieties without other flavors getting in the way (make sure you’re using unsalted butter!). Favorite Brand: There are too many to pick one! The best place to find these is actually in the kitchen section of TJ Maxx and Marshalls. They’re easier to find, and usually much cheaper than specialty grocery stores.

Large Finishing Salts
Maldon salt is perhaps one of the most famous of this variety. Like kosher salt, it’s light and flaky, but the flakes are much larger and add a bit of crunch to the final dish. These are not salts you cook with. Their higher price tag requires more judicious use, but is well worth it. In addition to the flavor boost you get from adding other salts, finishing salts have large enough flakes that they also add a bit of crunch to whatever you’re putting it on. My favorite ways to use finishing salts is in salads, on freshly grilled meat, or to sprinkle it over the surface of dinner rolls just before they go in the oven.
Favorite Brand: Maldon- I haven’t found this one in stores yet, but you can easily find it on

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