“Where would we be without salt?” -James Beard
It’s no surprise that I have a passion for salt. One bite of my salted chocolate chip cookies and not only will you taste that passion but I’m pretty certain you’ll suddenly feel passionate about salt too. A potato without salt tastes of nothing, homemade bread would rise beyond use and taste flat without it and a cookie - well, I don’t care much for cookies without salt.
These days the subject of salt is so confusing. First of all, is it terribly unhealthy for us? And if we decide to use it, which type are we to use - table, kosher, flake or fleur de sel? Well, it is my hope that after reading this you will not only feel okay about salting your food, you will also feel confident knowing which type of salt to use where.
Why We Need Salt
Salt calms bitterness, heightens sweetness, helps pull out hidden flavors, has the power to preserve and we need it. Salt is used in our bodies to maintain fluid in our blood cells and transmit information in our nerves and muscles; because our body can not make it on its own we need to feed our bodies some salt. Some being the key word. The over indulgence on salt in the recent years doesn’t come from over salting the real foods you are cooking in your kitchen but rather it’s the sudden influx of processed foods. As we’ve turned towards producing foods cheaply we’ve lost much of the flavor in the ingredients used thereby needing to saturate the food with salt in order to get it have any taste. When you are adding salt in the process of cooking your own food there is little concern with adding too much to affect your health in a negative way.
When and How to Salt
Now that we’re not afraid of it, let’s talk about using salt while we are cooking. Have you ever noticed how much better restaurant food can taste when you compare it with what we cook at home? Most often it’s because a good chef knows how to use salt. When you are cooking, salt throughout the entire process. When you do this every component of the dish is properly seasoned. The carrots will taste sweeter, onions more pronounced and the spices more flavorful. If you wait to salt only at the end your food will taste “salty” but salting during the cooking process brings the final dish together and you taste the ingredients rather than the salt. Taste throughout the entire process. Add more salt if needed and quit salting if there’s too much. This way you have more control on the final product. Also, salt your food from up high, this way the salt is dispersed evenly throughout the dish.
What Type of Salt to Use
In my kitchen I have a variety of salts. I use kosher throughout the cooking process. The large flakes allow me to feel how much I’m adding as I pinch the salt between my fingers. Kosher salt is also not as harsh as table salt. At the end of the cooking process I finish the dish with a flake salt. The finishing salt adds a nice crunch to the final dish and slowly dissolves on the tongue providing a saltiness that builds. The flake salt is also what I use to finish certain desserts - like my chocolate chip cookies or caramel sauce.
In my collection there is also a smoked salt that I use on roasted vegetables, especially potatoes. Smoked salt and caramel are an intriguing and delicious pair. There are a few herbed salts that I’ve made for a quick boost to salads, avocado toast and simple soups. My latest favorite is a fennel and coriander salt that I toss with homemade potato chips or roasted potatoes.
Homemade herb or spiced salts are made by simply combining fresh ground spices or dried herbs with salt - you can use kosher or a nice fleur de sel. Try combining the seeds of a vanilla bean with fleur de sel and sprinkling over fresh tomatoes in the summer. The salt brightens the tomato while the vanilla compliments the tomatoes inherent sweetness.