“Can you please pass the salt?”
“Did you salt the green beans?”
“The soup needs more salt added to it.”
“My doctor told me, no more salt.”
“Should I use Kosher salt or regular salt for the meat?”
Each one of these phrases probably sounds a little too familiar. When it comes to the topics of “food” and “health” the subject of salt is usually seasoned within the conversation. Salt, salt, salt. For some they can never have enough and for others it has become their arch-enemy. I don’t play a doctor in real life or in a blog post and I’m not about to begin.
Today’s topic of choice is not about salty health or the pros and cons it presents. Salt is the star of the show, the main character. We are going to unearth what it is, my journey in pursuing it, and understand how we can use it with greater purpose.
For over 15 years I have been in the culinary world. I launched my career in my mother’s kitchen, then to the back room of a small restaurant washing dishes to eventually traveling the world (literally) and pursuing a culinary education. The reason I state all this, is because even in my formal pursuits I honestly misplaced the salt. Ok I didn’t misplace anything, but I did intentionally pass over it.
Who needs to learn about salt anyway? It’s a simple seasoning. Salt and pepper are the king and queen, the popular couple of “seasoning land,” the stars of the culinary series. Why should anyone waste their precious time learning about salt when there is a vast culinary canvas of meats, cheeses, pastas, vegetables, and grains, overflowing with potential discoveries for the growing chef?
Foundation. Everything begins with a foundation. In order to build something spectacular, you need to lay the foundation first. The lack of a foundation can compromise the rest of the building process. In the case of the culinary world, it can bastardize the dish. Such a potent word to use but it is too risky.
Bastardize – “change something in such a way as to lower its quality or value” -Dictionary.com
Hence why today’s discovery is about the topic of salt. I promise you I am not on my culinarian “soap box” declaring some unfound facts about salt. I’m here to share my personal story and how it has drastically transformed and polished my cooking over the years. Anyone can learn from my personal mistakes.
The Back Story
Salt and pepper were my “go-to” ingredients for several years. Even if the recipe didn’t call for it, I added it. Besides, in my previous opinion and minimal experience, salt or pepper should never grace the table alone, they belonged together. So I perceived. Four years ago I took a hard honest look at my culinary skills. I did an internal evaluation. I asked myself where I needed to improve. Grandiose ideas of seafood, confections, and modern cooking techniques filled my head.
Then it hit me while perusing the bookshelf in the local Barnes and Noble Bookstore, I read the following sentence:
“Learn to use salt properly.” -Chef Thomas Keller
Boom! I never really learned how to properly use salt. Almost every recipe I encountered called for some form of seasoning with the use of salt and pepper. Salt and pepper are the exact opposite of each other. Something wasn’t making sense for me until I took a deep-dive into understanding salt at a finer level (no pun intended).
You will be spared the food geek side of me for now, rather let’s look at what we need to know. Where does one kickoff their pursuit of salty comprehension? We know there are several types of salt such as: Table salt, kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt, Sea salt, Celtic Grey sea salt, Fleur de Sel, flake salt, red Hawaiian salt, black Hawaiian salt, smoked salt, black Himalayan salt, and pickling salt.
What is the best type of salt for your in-home cooking needs? The first question you need to ask yourself is not what type of salt, but what are you going to use it for? Are you in need of it for topping off a dish, seasoning, adding a little flavor or baking? Different kinds of salt provide different outcomes and there are just as many varieties as there are human personalities. The end-game is not to overload you with useless knowledge, but provide you with applicable need-to-know function.
Table Salt. The most popular and used form of salt in my opinion. As years have passed, my experience has been watching, hearing, and reading recipes of others using table salt. It’s the most identifiable salt to homes and to cooks alike. Most table salt brands you will find are iodized. During the process the purpose is to remove traces of minerals containing anti-caking agents. This prevents the salt from clumping when it’s humid. As a culinarian I personally will only use this type of salt when the recipe specifically calls for it. It takes longer for table salt to dissolve, leaving your dish a little more potent than intended.
Kosher Salt. Kosher salt is my personal go-to when it comes to cooking in homes or professionally. Kosher salt is coarse in texture and quick-dissolving. Using Kosher salt acts as a “truth-teller” for cooking. Because this type of salt dissolves quickly, it immediately seasons your dish and allows you to gradually tell whether you will need more or less salt when cooking.
Pickling Salt. The only reason I knew this type of salt existed was because I grew up with it in my family. My parents worked hard every summer tilling, planting, and harvesting their home garden. We had a large fruit cellar and canning was a lifestyle for us as a family. Pickling salt has zero iodine, anti-caking agents, and usually no discoloring trace minerals. Perfect for creating dill pickles or pickled beats (one of my favs).
Sea Salt. Sea salt is slightly softer than Kosher salt. Are you looking to take you home or professional dishes to the next level? Consider adding a pinch of sea salt flakes to your finished product. Sea salt upgrades your creations with crunchy texture on top of your food and slaps your face with flavor in every bite. Great for entertaining and parties.
Himalayan Pink Salt. I see this type of salt in a lot of locations, but I have to admit I never use it. Himalayan Pink salt carries a rich history behind it. The salt is harvested by hand from the Khewra Salt Mine which is located far within the Himalayan Mountains of Pakistan. The presence of this salt not only carries complex flavor, but it’s also known for it plush pink color.
Flake Salt. Flake salt my be my newest food crush. I liken it to a high school relationship. It carries the adventure, gets your mouth watering, and makes your heart pound a little with each bite. Why all the hype? Well consider when you choose to use flake salt to gently dust your oven roasted vegetables or the perfectly grilled steak or chicken. The flakes add a powerful and entertaining crunch for mouth feel and a wonderful finisher on your palate.
Smoked Salt. Is barbecue or smoky flavors a choice for food selection? You may want to experiment using smoked salt. I never knew smoked salt existed until I followed the rabbit hole into the world of salt. Smoked salt has spent ample time in a low and slow mode over the course of few weeks. Salt is taken and placed in a smoker with the wood of your choosing such as mesquite, hickory, maple, pecan, or applewood. Over the course of two weeks the salt is then infused with the smoky flavors of the wood. It can be used for a wide variety of dishes.
Salt is more than just a condiment or pepper’s sidekick. Salt is the star of the show which has been hidden in the shadows of misunderstanding for far too long. Here is your new opportunity to experiment with several types of salt and expand your palate and culinary skills at the same time.
The world of salt is vast and I didn’t even touch the tip of the “salt glacier.” Let me know what you’ve discovered by commenting below. I want to know what salt you chose and are exploring and how you are using it.
Enjoy the journey!
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