A word on Salt

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Published on: January 30, 2013

Learn how to properly salt your food.  Ignore the silly health warnings, the mad ravings of the health freaks and the government guidelines to salt intake – it’s for the those of us who live off microwave and packaged meals and fast food 7 days a week.  When you are cooking at home and making things from scratch you need salt.  No, not lo salt (or No Salt), put that rubbish away!  I’m talking about real salt; Sea salt not that highly refined table salt either.

saltI suggest you taste your salt.  Take a pinch of table salt, lo salt and good quality sea salt and place each one on the tip of your tongue in turn.  You will notice the difference.  The table salt will have a slight chemical like (iodine) after-taste and a grainy texture but you will get that salt taste.  Now try the lo salt (or other artificial alternative) and taste that.  I have to fight the urge to spit it out, it just doesn’t taste of anything real – a bit like artificial sweetener.  Now try a flake of sea salt, clean, crisp and sharp in taste.  After that experience I ditched any thought of cooking with anything less than good quality sea salt.  I’ve tried Fleur de sel, Cornish and Maldon sea salt, I prefer the crunch of Maldon but there isn’t much in it.

Hopefully you have now realised the difference in the type and quality of salt.  It doesn’t mean that table salt or cheaper grinding sea salt doesn’t have its uses.  I use the grinding sea salt on the table.  I use the cheap table salt for salting boiling water, pasta or potatoes, that sort of thing.  I might also use it to preserve things, no point in using the expensive stuff if you need large quantities and taste isn’t a real issue.  Also the more expensive gourmet salts are really finishing salts, in general cooking you should use a cheaper sea salt that you can crush – kosher salt is often used in the USA but any cheap salt flake will do the job.  Then again, a box of Maldon sea salt lasts me 3 months, so it doesn’t make that big a difference.

Salt is a natural desiccant.  It draws out the moisture in food, so it is often used to dry food – since it is also a natural preservative (anti-biotic, anti-fungal).  But even applied to food for a short period, it will bring out the moisture.  I often roast beetroot in tinfoil, lined with salt.  It makes the beetroot juicy and intensifies the flavours, but since the skin is still on the beetroot it doesn’t make them salty.  Salt alters food in more ways than just taste.

Now that we understand the taste and uses for salt, I can focus on the real issue – quantity.  How much is enough?  Have you seen the Chef’s on TV throw handfuls of salt on food like it is going out of fashion?  That would be about right.  When you first season food with salt, most of it is lost in the cooking process; Unless you let the salt sit on the food for 40mins or more, then it will soak in and start to cure.  When you salt a steak, I suggest to salt it just before you cook it.  If you leave the salt on the steak for 5mins, it will start to draw out the juices of the steak – it doesn’t dry the steak out but it adds moisture to the pan and stops the steak searing properly.  After an hour of being salted, the steak actually starts to cure and the juices go back into the steak, intensifying the flavour.  But I’d rather just salt the steak and put it in the pan rather than wait an hour.

I picked up a fantastic tip from a Chef at a food festival this year.  Salt your meat just before you cook it and then, within a few minutes of cooking, salt it again.  The first salting will cook into the meat and flavour it but the best way to really enhance food and what can separate good food from great food is a second salting – it really brings out the flavour.  After testing that out myself, I’m convinced!  Of course, you’ll use up your 6g of salt for the day on that one bit of meat but you try sticking to that 6g limit… your food will be tasteless.  Salt is a flavour enhancer, don’t be afraid of it.  If you attend a cooking course, one of the most common criticisms you will hear from the instructors is “it’s under seasoned”.  It’s a crime, you spend hours cooking something to perfection and it ends up lacking flavour.  I know when something is properly seasoned because I don’t even think about reaching for the salt on the table but it’s not so salty that I need to start drinking pints of water!

Salt pig

Finally, I highly recommend buying yourself a salt pig – see the picture, if you’ve not seen one before.  Not only does it provide easy access to salt when you need it for cooking but it keeps the moisture away from the salt, ensuring it remains in top condition.

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