Monday, October 27, 2008

Salt of the Earth - Cooking Techniques

Perhaps the second most important cooking ingredient after water is salt. To really bring out the flavor in great ingredients you need to use the correct salt at the correct time. In the USA there are basically 3 important types of salt in cooking. First, is Kosher salt. Kosher salt the red box in the picture above is the basic salt used in seasoning before and during cooking. It is inexpensive, comes in a nice large box (which you need!), tastes good, and dissolves easily. The second most important salt is Fleur de Sel. This is a very, very flaky salt that is collected after high tides from seashores - it is the very clean, very white, flaky crystals that form on the top of other salts deposited by retreating tides. It is expensive but is THE BEST "finishing salt" - meaning it is used both for presentation and flavor and is put on dishes after plating. The 3rd important salt are "Sea Salts - Sel De Mer" and they come in many flavors and colors and are basically the "dirty - i.e. contain minerals and other impurities, salt that the Fleur De Sel rests atop. They are also finishing salts and those impurities add flavor (for good or ill - in Hawaiian Black Salt the black comes from tiny ground up lava crystals - not yummy in my opinion. Sel De Mer also comes in a "cleaned", very white, pure form which is just fine. Both Kosher and "clean" Sel De Mer come in "gros" or "fin" meaning small (for cooking) and large (for finishing) crystals. These salts have French names because most of the best ones come from France.

By the way if you are ever visiting France and want to bring something home that is a great buy, will make you think of your trip for months to some, and packs easily - they sell BIG bags of Fleur De Sel really cheap in most French grocery stores - It is dirt cheap there and expensive here.

You will notice I have not mentioned the NASTY Iodized "table salt" you probably have and use. THROW IT AWAY!. Table salt is grossly over processed and subjected to many nasty chemicals to get it to pour so nice and fine. The result is that it tastes like nasty chemicals. Take a vitamin or eat seafood if you want iodine but never use table salt again and you and your family will be the better off for it.

You may also have noticed that I said you need the large box Kosher Salt comes in - I use a box about every two weeks! In my water blog I told you the importance of large amounts of very salty water in blanching and brining (both of which you will be doing a lot of if you follow by blog advice on how to raise the level of your everyday cooking. Also, you need to add a LOT of salt before cooking many things (it washes off in lots of techniques - but is essential to the initial "preparation" of other ingredients.

When you salt is ALWAYS BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER cooking!. Before - to draw out moisture, "tenderize", flavor. During, when, the recipe calls for it AND when you are "tasting a cooking item (you must keep tasting EVERYTHING you cook as you go along to see if it tastes "right" or needs adjustment). After cooking, when items are sliced or plated you add (after tasting) finishing salt to taste.

SALT IS A GOOD THING - If you have health issues I feel bad for you - if you don't USE IT. Nothing tastes good with NO salt - including ice cream!

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