Salt is the most universal ingredient in a world history of food and cooking. Sweet, savory, meat, vegetables, there is salt in the background or in your face.
“Salt is the most important ingredient in cooking and the most effective tool for improving the taste of food,” says Mark Bitterman in his encyclopedia “Salted”.
No wonder, then, that you may be paralyzed with decision-making when choosing a salt from the supermarket shelf or your pantry. Or you can do exactly the opposite and not worry about this basic ingredient.
Here’s why it’s important and what to look out for.
Know the types. There are four types of salt that most home cooks use on a regular basis: Tafel, Kosher, Meer, and Finishing. The good news? They are all essentially chemically identical – like in salt or sodium chloride. The differences depend on how they’re made, what they look like, and who you ask what flavor they are.
- Table salt is granulated with a fine texture from small cubes. Harold McGee writes in Keys to Good Cooking that it often contains potassium iodide to provide iodine (more on that later) and an anti-caking agent to keep crystals from sticking together.
- Kosher salt is made up of larger, more flaky crystals named for their ability to extract blood and moisture from meat during the koshering process of Jewish food law. It is not iodized.
- Sea salt can be refined with smaller or larger crystals to a greater or lesser extent than other types. It may contain additional minerals that give it a bitter taste, McGee says.
- Finishing salts often boast the origin of the procurement and can come in a variety of shapes and colors. You’ve never experienced finishing salts like this – flavors, textures, and colors that will elevate your cuisine. Check the link.
Understand why shape and size matter.“The type of salt can make a huge difference in how well it blends in. Flaky sea salt and kosher salt from the Diamond Crystal brand mix faster and better than granular table salt, ”writes Shirley Corriher in BakeWise. It has to do with how each type of salt is formed. Corriher points out that 90 percent of a granular salt will ricochet off a surface, while 95 percent of a hollow flake salt will stick, not to mention it will dissolve faster. Both of these factors are main reasons why chefs and cookbook authors often prefer Diamond Crystal, a hollow, scaly pyramid. Other kosher salts, such as the common Morton coarse salt, are created when granular salt is flattened with rollers, according to Corriher. She prefers sea salt for baking (she advocates Maldon as needed), as does Rose Levy Beranbaum, who notes in The Baking Bible that it blends more easily into dough than coarse salt. Kosher salt is easier to pinch, absorb, and see when you’re seasoning meat, for example. Kosher salt also ensures a clear brine.
In “The Food Lab”, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt calls kosher salt the “only salt you absolutely need in your kitchen”. Contain iodine.
Understand the taste. It gets confusing here. Do different salts taste different? It depends on who you ask. Bitterman, a writer and gourmet shopkeeper who calls himself the world’s first “Selmelier”, believes it is. It has little use for salts from the supermarket. He describes the aroma of table salt as “drying spray paint, dirt, fishhook”, kosher salt as “hot, light, sometimes metallic and / or slightly hot” and sea salt as “sharp flatness”. “Of course, he doesn’t recommend using any of these for home cooking.
I fall into the same camp as McGee, who says, “All unflavored salts taste about the same, especially in food. Exotic origins can be very interesting to the mind, but don’t register on the plate. ”
Figure out how much you need. Ideally, the recipes will indicate what type or brand of salt to use. Otherwise, McGee recommends starting with a smaller amount and increasing it depending on your taste. If you want to change the specified type, please note the above mentioned uses and properties. Corriher: “To get as much salt as one tablespoon of granular salt, use 1 1/2 tablespoons of Morton’s kosher salt or 2 tablespoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt.” Salt has different weights depending on the size of the crystals and the density of the crystals in the measuring spoon.
Emphasize the finish. For most of us, this is where you can get the most bang for your buck with more expensive specialty salts. “Refining with salt is the linchpin for strategic salting. It’s a versatile cooking technique and one of the most effective ways to play sensually with what we eat, ”writes Bitterman. “The habit of dealing with salt is straightforward: choose an artisanal salt, spread it on the surface of your food, and eat.”
Here, think about the color and texture, whether you want something that contrasts or compliments the food. Finishing salts can come in a variety of forms, from delicate flakes to crispy crystals. Or make your own flavored topper by combining salt with herbs, spices, or citrus peel.
Whatever you choose, season the food at serving temperature, says McGee. Warm foods can enhance a variety of flavors, including saltiness.