Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Technique Tuesdays: My Two Cents About Salt

Salt is one of those great kitchen items that can really enhance the flavors of a dish. From savory to sweet, salt has a place in nearly all recipes. The right amount of salt can mean the difference between a dish that tastes flat and uninspired and a dish that has zip and loads of flavor. When you watch professional chefs cook, you will notice that they use liberal amounts of salt, nearly always pinching from a salt bowl instead of using a shaker. Just because you're using more salt that your gut tells you to use doesn't mean you're going to end up with an overly salted dish. It's just a matter of getting used to a new way of viewing salt as a flavor enhancer, not just big, bad sodium. It also depends on the type of salt you are using. For example, you would need to use more table salt in a recipe than Kosher salt, given the differences in volume between the two varieties of salt.

My salt of choice for everyday cooking is Kosher salt. Kosher salt is coarse and has no added ingredients (regular table salt has anti-caking ingredients). It imparts a clean flavor and is a wonderful alternative to using table salt. Kosher salt is quick-dissolving and is great for use in both savory and sweet dishes. You can find Kosher salt in just about every grocery store. I typically buy a large box and keep about a cup in a small container next to my stove for easy access. I use my fingers to pinch salt from the bowl unless I am baking, in which case I break out my measuring spoons. I try to stick to roughly 3-4:1 for salt versus pepper; I find that this ratio is a good general rule of thumb. Of course there are some recipes that require additional pepper, but this ratio has served me well for most dishes.

A few quick tips when cooking with salt: 1) when you are carmelizing onions or sauteing vegetables, add salt later in the cooking process. Salt will pull moisture from veggies, making it more difficult for you to obtain that golden color you desire; 2) salt at every step of the cooking process...if you are making a sauce, salt your base, then again at the end; 3) taste what you are cooking; it is the most effective way of making sure you have salted correctly; 4) don't be shy about using salt for sweet dishes; I make a strawberry sauce that needs a good pinch of salt to make the strawberry flavor more vibrant.

So remember, salt is not a bad or scary thing. When you go to a restaurant and love the flavor of a dish, keep in mind that the chef probably used a liberal amount of salt. I know you're probably concerned about preparing healthy dishes and are wondering how adding more salt is going to affect your efforts, but keep in mind that you are not using huge quantities of salt and can often cut out or reduce extra butter or other high-fat ingredients by enhancing the flavor of whatever you are cooking by adding the correct amount of salt.

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