Thursday, February 2, 2012
Salt draws out of food the essential flavor that would otherwise remain neutral or latent. Salting properly is what distinguishes a mediocre cook from a very good one.
I love to stand around an almost finished dish with my students, adding salt in increments until the magical moment when the flavor bursts forward. After years of cooking, I still find that an exciting moment. Properly seasoned food leaves a rounded flavor on the tongue. Often before a dish is salted properly, the flavor of the food can be dull or might register only on the back receptors of the tongue. In addition, pleasantly spicy foods feel like they are overly spicy. Once the proper amount of salt is added – and that might mean the difference of only a pinch – the constituent flavors are drawn together harmoniously, and the food comes alive.
In my recipes, I always indicate an amount of salt that is close to the amount that I think a given dish needs. The recipe usually needs one or two pinches more to draw out the flavors; it is impossible to include that tiny amount in the recipe, and it may vary, depending on the ingredients. I call this extra amount a “grandma pinch,” which means a good fat pinch, not a speck. If you tend to be heavy-handed, however, make your pinch a baby pinch.
Many people today are afraid of seasoning their food properly because of the misconception that salt is bad for you. Nonetheless, the body needs sodium to function. It helps carry nutrients into the cells, and is the main component of the body’s extra-cellular fluids. But let’s be clear about one thing: unrefined salt is not the same as refined salt. Salt in its natural form–not altered during manufacturing–is unrefined. It is a naturally occurring complex of sodium chloride (which includes minerals such as calcium and magnesium) as well as a complete complement of essential trace minerals. Refined salt has all of its minerals removed, rendering it an essentially lifeless product. That’s why even though it has large crystals, kosher salt does not have my endorsement. (It’s appropriate for crusting fish or cleaning cast-iron skillets.)
I favor the Celtic salt that has been harvested off the coast of Brittany, dried in salt pools by wind and air. I like the finely ground variety which I use in everything, including baking.
Celtic Sea Salt
The coarse ground variety is a wonderful finishing salt for when you large crystal is desirable, such as for boiled edamame. The pristine white layer that forms on the top of the salt beds is know as fleur de sel, my first choice for sprinkling on a chocolate tart. Another high quality mineral-rich salt is Himalayan pink salt.
Himalayan Sea Salt
Both Celtic and Himalayan salt are both readily available in stores and online. Both will nourish the body while making your food taste delicious. It’s best to use unrefined salt, season your food until the flavor is maximized; and, to avoid getting too much sodium, stay away from processed food!