Is Salt Really The Most Important Ingredient in the Culinary World?
All salt is not created equal and this simple ingredient is one of the most important in the culinary world.
Salt is a flavor enhancer. In cooking, the goal of salt is not necessary to make things taste salty, but instead salt is meant to lift the natural flavor and aroma of ingredients making them taste good. Have you ever eaten an unsalted potato? How about unsalted beef? It’s flavorless. The taste is dull, flat, and uninteresting. It can force your expression to drop and to chew with your mouth open like cow chewing cud. Eating becomes a chore and frankly it’s a waste of your time and your caloric allotment.
But have you tasted a salted caramel? Have you eaten perfectly salted soup accompanied by toast with salted butter? Even something as simple as a salted radish, it’s heavenly, no?
When to Salt?
The best way to build flavors in dish is to add salt as throughout the cooking process. For instance, when making a soup, some say it is ideal to salt a little each time you add an ingredient. Or when cooking beans or rice, if you are salt at the start of the process, salt can be absorbed into the whole grain or bean thus achieving better, more complex flavors.
But beware: The art of salting can be a dangerous game. Food that is too salty is just as bad as food that is under-salted (if not worse). It can make food virtually inedible! If salting in the aforementioned way, the key is to add just a little each time and to constantly taste your food. You can always add more salt at the end of the cooking process.
How to Salt
By salting with your hands (i.e. taking a pinch of salt with your fingers) instead of shaking salt from the shaker, you have much more control over the process. Also, salt from high up, say 6-8 inches above your food, and move your fingers back and forth letting the salt fall gracefully and equally to create an even layer of perfectly dispersed salt.
Salt is not created equal.
Most professional and amateur cooks alike use and swear by kosher salt. The large crystals are easy to handle but small enough to dissolve easily in liquid. Importantly, kosher salt is a great all-purpose salt. Salt can vary in density and saltiness, meaning that a teaspoon of kosher salt will not taste the same as a teaspoon of table salt or sea salt. As you train your palate to detect the perfect amount of salt in a dish, kosher salt is ideal to use as a constant. With practice, you’ll eventually begin to intuitively know how much salt to use and what it will taste like.
If you want to go fancy, stock some fleur de sel or Maldon Salt in your pantry. Fleur de sel is a French finishing salt that has a beautiful flavor as well as dazzlingly glittery salt crystals. Maldon Salt is an English finishing salt known for its large flakes. Try sprinkling Maldon on top of those chocolate chip cookies about to go in your oven and taste the fancy difference for yourself.
What if you add too much salt? How can we fix it? The answer is to simply add fat. Adding oils or butter to over salted foods will reduce the salinity. In the case of soup and other liquid bases, more liquid can also solve this problem. However, note that adding more liquid will also dilute the other flavors in the dish.
What if you overcook meat making it dry? Are you embarrassed? You can actually lightly salt the top of an overcooked steak and it will draw moisture to the top tricking your eaters in to thinking it’s actually more juicy and luscious than it actually is.
How Much Salt in a Pinch?
The answer is not the five grains of salt you can squeeze between your thumbs and pointer finger. A salty pinch is a full five-finger grab, equally roughly 1– 1 ½ -teaspoons.
Here are some recipes you can practice your salting technique: