10-12-2005, 11:36 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: the Prairie
Some stuff I stole from a couple of sources:
The always eloquent food writer Margaret Visser wrote, "Salt is the only rock directly consumed by man. It corrodes but preserves. It desiccates but is wrested from the water. It has fascinated man for thousands of years, not only as a substance he prized but as a generator of mythic and of legendary meaning. Its contradictions only intensify its power and its links with the experience of the sacred."
Chefs aren’t always known for getting along with one another, but one thing that they all almost universally agree upon is that the most elementary skill in all of cuisine is the ability to properly season food. That is, apply salt.
Salt both gives flavor and brings out a food’s intrinsic flavors. Salt is a supporting player, one that lets the tastes of other ingredients shine and creates harmony among all the components in a dish. Salt is especially adept at suppressing bitter flavors in greens, sweets, and just about any food. Try this experiment: Take a sip of plain tonic water, and focus on the bitter quinine flavor. Next, add a little salt to the tonic water, and taste it again. It almost tastes like sugar water. That’s why pastry chefs always add a pinch of salt to desserts - it suppresses bitter notes and brings out sweetness.
When making a sauce, soup, or stew, add small amounts of salt all throughout the cooking process. Season at the beginning, the middle and at the end, tasting at each point that you season, after giving the salt few moments to dissolve. When you use salt correctly, the food doesn’t taste salty - it tastes more like itself.
Salt can make anything taste better, by making it taste more like itself, whether you’re talking about potatoes, watermelons or chocolate. Four out of five scientists agree that this is due to salt’s ability to electrically turn the volume up on our taste buds.
Four out of five scientists disagree, however, with foodies who claim to be able to taste the difference between different salts, say one from the Sea of Japan and one from the former East Germany. Scientists claim that the trace elements that make these salts unique, make up less than one percent of the total salt, and are therefore undetectable by the human tongue.
But lest we forget, genetically speaking, there is less than a percent difference between us and chimps. Anyway, the thing that really separates one salt from another is texture.
Behold table salt. Small, uniform, hard cubes. Think of it as, well, in the precipitation world this would be sleet.
Now let’s compare that to Fleur de Sel. A naturally evaporated sea salt harvested from the coast of France. Notice the open architecture, the lightness, the irregularity. They are essentially snowflakes.
Coarse salts sprinkled on a savory dish just before serving, such as on a pretzel or focaccia, are there specifically to deliver a burst of salt flavor.
Sea salt is made from evaporated sea water. It comes in a fine grind and also in crystals and it also taste great but it's kind of pricey. It's definitely for cooks who drive Porsches.
Rock salt is not the stuff that you put on your driveway in winter. It's okay. It's got some extra minerals in it, which won't do you any harm, but you have to have a grinder for it.
Good old table salt has iodine added to it so you won't get a goiter and that's a major concern. This stuff has got anti-clumping additive which keep it from clumping. It's hard to pinch, it's hard to control and it just tastes funny. However, it does have its uses.
Kosher salt not only tastes great but the jagged little flakes stick together so that you can pick it up and control it which helps you season things. The flakes also will stick to the outside of meat and help give us that crust we're after. Table salt will just dissolve when it hits the pan. Kosher salt is a pantry essential. For goodness sakes, keep it near you always.
The recipes here use kosher salt unless specified otherwise. To use ordinary table salt instead, use approximately half as much.
It’s important to note that pickling salt it is chemically identical to kosher salt. They are both pure salt. Neither has any iodine added or any anti-clumping agents. But there is a distinct physical difference. Pickling salt is a much finer grind than kosher salt and that is relevant to the cook.
For instance, pickling salt is great on popcorn. Kosher salt isn't. Pickling salt will clump up like a rock on a very humid day. Kosher salt won't. Pickling salt dissolves quickly and cleanly in cold liquids like brine. Kosher salt only melts in very, very hot liquids. And, last and by no means least, any given volume of pickling salt weighs about a third more than the same amount of kosher salt.
For instance, say that you've got a recipe that calls for 1/4 cup of pickling salt. You think, well that's no problem. I don't have any pickling salt hanging around the house so I'll use the same amount of kosher salt. That is a problem because that's not apples to apples. In fact, if you have a recipe that calls for a teaspoon of pickling salt, you need to use a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt.
A “big pinch” of kosher salt is about ¼ teaspoon. [Presumably, a “pinch” would be about an eighth.]
You may be afraid that using salt will cause high blood pressure. You have to remember, salt is an essential nutrient. It provides the ying to water’s yang, thus maintaining our moisture levels. Without salt, a three block walk in summertime would probably kill you. Without salt you wouldn’t be able to walk in the first place, because sodium works with potassium to generate the electricity that fuels our nervous system. Besides, there have been countless medical studies in the last twenty years trying to condemn salt. All they’ve been able to prove is that if you have two healthy kidneys, you have access to plenty of water, and as long as you don’t have a genetic predisposition toward sodium-related hypertension, you can eat all the salt you want.
The tongue only detects four flavors: sweet, bitter, sour and salty. A lot of things taste sweet. And a lot of things, most of them toxic, taste bitter. Sour? Plenty of things. But only one thing tastes salty: salt. Now, think of this: this tongue evolved the way it did to taste food and keep us alive by telling us what to eat. If salt was bad for us, would this thing have evolved liking salt? No.