Please Pass the Salt
We’ve all seen it happen. Someone will ask to have the salt passed to them without even tasting the food. This is not uncommon for those who have grown up in families where the common cooking technique involved boiling. Something is needed to “wake up” the dish.
So why use salt?
Salt has been used throughout history to both flavor and preserve foods. Salt is essential for all living creatures to thrive. It helps the body maintain appropriate levels of moisture as well as the critical chemo-electrical function in the body such as the sodium/potassium balance required for the heart to function. However, in excessively large quantities, salt like anything else, may be unhealthy for you.
Salt plays an important role in our taste experience as “saltiness” is one of the main taste receptors in our mouths. Salt stimulates the receptors in the tongue to fire faster. Try this. Take about 1/8 cup of low sodium chicken broth and taste it at room temperature. It tastes rather boring. Now add and dissolve a small pinch of salt and you have a very different tasting experience, without it tasting salty. This same holds true for baked goods. If you inadvertently leave the salt out of a bread recipe, you will have one extremely bland and uninteresting tasting bread.
One of the mantras I drill into my students is “It you can taste the salt, you added too much.” Salt should be added to accentuate or heighten the taste experience, not be the primary flavor. Exceptions include salted nuts, parmesan cheese, French fries, etc. Salt should be added at the end of the cooking process to achieve the final balance to a dish. If a recipe calls for salt, add only half during the process, and finish as needed. When baking, add salt when the recipes states.
I like to control the amount of salt in my foods. Therefore, I make every reasonable attempt to purchase low-sodium products when reaching for processed foods.
So what do I use as my salt in foods? Sometimes nothing if I am adding other salt-laden ingredients such as parmesan cheese into my risotto. Remember, many of our processed foods already have plenty of salt in them so you may not need to add any. However, if I do add salt I do NOT use iodized salt as I do not like that metallic aftertaste commonly found in the big blue container. I recommend the following salts for most applications: Redmond Trading Company’s “Real Salt,” Kosher salt and a few ridiculously expensive specialty salts like Himalayan pink salt. The important thing is to use quality ingredients when cooking and that includes using quality salt as well.
Next week, we will look at some other flavoring ingredients essential for every pantry. In the meantime, I will be munching on my salted sunflower seeds, jerky and salted caramel.
Chef David Hall