Salt get s a bad wrap if you ask me. We are consuming a lot of salt these days because it is a preservative and sodium in general is very high in overly processed foods. Used in moderation, like most things, it can bring a lot of flavor out, and can also help keep foods from clinging to things, and can help some foods last longer, and even provide a crust to protect foods from harsh cooking methods.
WHAT IS SALT
Sodium Chloride (NaCl is its chemical symbolization, thanks Mr Leech!). It is a requirement of life and is necessary to a certain degree in most mammals. The taste of salt is even one of the basic human flavor sensations. It is the oldest know spice/seasoning and is a key in the preservation of foods.
Salt for humans comes in many forms, refined, unrefined, sea, and rock varieties. Colors can range from pink, to grey, to white, and even black in some cases.
SALT AND YOUR HEALTH
While salt in smaller quantities is tolerable by our systems, too much can be dangerous to our systems in the form of high blood pressure to name one. Our increased intake in this crystal is due to the high sodium content in processed foods that make up much of our diets these days.
By eating fresh foods, and making much of it from scratch, you will dramatically reduce your sodium intake. So eat fresher foods and season lightly!
TYPES OF SALT
Refined salt is the salt we are all accustomed to these days. It is the white, fine variety that sits on tables every where. Most varieties these days include Iodine which is another mineral required by our bodies.
Of the salts available to the consumer, table, being the most fine, is also the easiest to mis-measure. This makes it the most likely to turn something salty, either by error, or reduction of the sauces, which concentrates flavors.
Kosher salt is gets it name not by its being made in by with the guidelines for kosher foods, but because its used for making meats kosher. Meats were salted to be cured so they could be stored for longer periods of time, back when there was no refrigeration.
Nowadays Kosher salt is commonly used by cooks and chef’s the world over for many reasons. Kosher salt is easier to use with your fingers, and by feel. We as chefs can more accurately portion, and distribute because of its larger size.
Because salt takes a little time to dissolve, and Kosher even more so, it can also be sprinkled on a piece of say, meat, and help to keep it from sticking to a pan when we sear or saute.
Because the saline content is distributed over the larger pieces of salt, it allows a little more play in seasoning of foods, in other words it makes it harder to over salt products. The trick is to under salt foods a little bit, so when the salt is completely dissolved, your flavors will be spot on.
I keep mine stored in a little pot with a lid, next to my stove where it is easily reached for and pinched into my foods as I cook.
It can also be used as a garnish, serving Oysters on a bed of Sea Salt is pretty common. In addition Sea Salt can be used for cooking. By cooking fish crusted over with the salt, you can add a lot of flavor while also protecting and keeping the flavors in the foods. It is removed before consumption.
Rock Salts and the like are generally harvested sometimes from land, not oceans or seas like normal salt and may come in colors that are not common to salt. These are generally used in mills and grinders, but can also be distinctive in flavors.
WHEN COOKING WITH SALT
When you cook with any salt, there are things to consider, and be mindful of. Not everyone’s flavor profiles are the same, not everyone wants the same amount of salt in their foods, and diets. Err on the side of caution, and undersalt food, it is a lot easier to add it in, than to take it out.
Salt should be added for seasoning’s sake at the END of the cooking process. If you add salt too early, as the dish cooks and the flavors concentrate, the sauce reduces in volume, the salt level will stay constant and quickly turn your foods to salty. I am sure you have all had a salty gravy and this is usually how it happens.
Salt will extract moisture out of foods. This is great when you are trying to take moisture out of eggplant, but can turn tomatoes watery in 10 minutes. Have you ever diced tomatoes and seasoned a salsa, only to find it floating in water after a bit? That is a direct result of salt. How do you avoid this? Add salt just prior to serving, or find other means to add flavors with out over salting the foods.
I hope this sheds some light on what used to be a very simple subject! Don’t fear the salt, arm yourself with knowledge and you will have better seasoned dishes in no time!