Monday, September 29, 2008

Two soups and a stock

The convergence of several factors inspired Saturday’s food preparation. It was a rainy day, and nothing suits a grey day better than a bowl of soup. Also, I had over half a neglected roast chicken in the fridge that I had to use or lose. I ended up making two chicken soups from what I had on hand and used the bones to make another batch of chicken stock.

When making soups with leftover roast chicken, I tend to use water rather than chicken stock. The cooked chicken has enough juices from the roasting process to flavour and thicken the soup as a stock would, so I save my stock for vegetable soups. As with any meat, chicken needs to be simmered in liquid for at least 25 minutes before it will soften and fall apart. If it is not cooked long enough, it will be tough and chewy.

These are both hearty, meal-in-a-bowl soups.

Serves 3-4
1 Tbsp light olive oil
1 large clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 14-oz can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 large tomato, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 L water
1 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs or 1 tsp dried (e.g. rosemary, thyme, parsley)
4-5 leaves swiss chard, chopped
salt & pepper
extra virgin olive oil
In a medium-sized pot, heat the oil and garlic over medium heat. When you can smell the garlic cooking, add the beans and stir for one minute. Add the tomato, chicken, water and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and put the lid on the pot, allowing the soup to simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.

Once the chicken is tender, add the chard. If the soup looks too thick, add some hot water. Replace the lid and allow to cook another two minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and finish with several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.


This recipe is my version of the soup Carole King sings of in her song of the same name. I have her voice in my head whenever I make this: “Cooking once, cooking twice, / Cooking chicken soup with rice.” Her song doesn’t contain a recipe per se, and I add lemon and parsley for simple, essential flavour.
1 Tbsp light olive oil
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1/3 c white rice
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 L water
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt & pepper
In a medium-sized pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the celery and carrots, and cook for five minutes. Do not brown. When the vegetables are beginning to soften, add the rice, stirring to coat with oil. Cook another minute until you can smell the rice beginning to toast.

Add the water and chicken and increase the heat to bring mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer 20-25 minutes. Check the soup periodically to ensure that the expanded rice has not used all of the liquid, adding more hot water if necessary.

Once the chicken is tender and the rice is cooked, add the parsley, lemon juice and season to taste.

Makes about 1.5 L

In a 3 L soup pot, place the bones of one roast chicken, removing any items left inside the cavity (such as whole lemon or bread stuffing). Add half a peeled onion, one peeled carrot and one celery stalk. Fill to the 2.5 L mark with water. Bring stock to a boil slowly over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low. Allow the stock to simmer all day or overnight. Check the liquid periodically to ensure the heat is not too high and evaporating the water too quickly. There will be some evaporation, but not much. After 8 hours or so, strain the liquid into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge. Remove any fat that collects at the surface. Divide into containers or freezer bags and freeze up to one year.

NOTE: Prolong the shelf life of stock left in the fridge by bringing to a boil for several minutes. This will kill off any bacteria and allow the stock to be returned to the fridge to remain available for use for another 5-6 days.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Death Row Chicken

This is my death row meal: roast chicken with roast potatoes and boiled green peas. That I have roasted a chicken once a week for several years without tiring of it says a lot about the pleasure of this simple, essential feast. During the summer months, when the weather is too hot to warrant turning on the oven, part of me longs for the return of cooler temperatures and thus my weekly ritual.

Knowing how to roast a chicken is a basic life skill as far as I'm concerned (that is, if your life includes eating meat). There are few things more satisfying than pulling a fragrant roast chicken from the oven, hearing the crackle and pop of the juices bubbling in the roasting dish and tucking into your favourite parts of the bird before it has even reached the table.

Roast chicken is good economy as well. Leftover meat can be used in sandwiches and salads, or simply picked off the carcass in the fridge as a late-night snack, dressed with mayo. Save the roasting juices to make insanely good roast potatoes on a day when you need a culinary hug. And of course, once you have picked the bones clean, throw them in a pot of water with an onion and some celery to make chicken stock, the basis of the easiest and most comforting and delicious soups.

Everyone has their own chicken roasting recipe. Certainly, cookbooks are no help to finding the essential roasting method. Roasting temperatures will range from 325F to 450F depending on who you consult, and the variations of preparations are endless.

There is also some debate over cooking position (of the bird, not the cook). As a flightless bird, the breast muscle is unused by the chicken and as a result, the meat is lean and flavourless. The back and legs, which get all the action, are sinewy, riddled with blood vessels, and full of fat and thus flavour. Some cooks compensate for the breast meat's lack of flavour by roasting the chicken breast-side down, the theory being that the back fat will permeate the breast on its way down to the bottom of the roasting pan. Some cooks position the bird breast-side down for the first half of roasting, then flip it over for the remainder of the cooking time to brown the breast. (This, incidentally, is how I roast my turkey, which is never dry and always tasty.)

I've roasted chickens in several different configurations of breast up or down, and in every position, the meat tastes pretty much the same to me. I stick to breast up now. No result warrants neither the sacrifice of crisp, golden breast skin, requiring prolonged exposure to the oven heat to achieve perfection, nor burning my hands trying to wrestle with a hot, slippery, half-roasted bird. This effort I perform only once a year, usually with the assistance of my father, as we coordinate our movements to turn a 16-pound stuffed turkey in its roasting tray. No easy feat.

Through all of the experimentation, I have found a system that is simple and easy: no flipping or fuss. I like cooking that requires minimal effort to achieve grand results. My method is largely based on Nigella Lawson's direction save a few details, specifically the oven temperatures. Perhaps my oven is hotter than hers, but if I roast my chicken at 450F-425F, the fat splatters so much that my kitchen is filled with smoke within half an hour. Here is how I roast a chicken:

Serves 3-4
1 4lb (2kg) roasting chicken
1 lemon
salt and pepper
1 tsp butter
Remove the chicken from the fridge 1 hour before cooking so that it reaches room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.

Most chickens come from the butcher or supermarket already trussed. If the chicken has been in your fridge for a couple of days, then rinse it with cold water and dry it inside and out with a paper towel. Place it breast-side up in a roasting tray deep enough to collect the roasting juices. I use a 9 x 12 in. oven-safe glass dish.

Reach into the chicken cavity (located between the legs) and pull off any large fat pieces. (The fat looks like butter and is located just inside the cavity.) Generously sprinkle the cavity with good salt and pepper (about 1 tsp large-flake salt). Cut the lemon in half and stick half directly into the cavity. You may need cut the half-lemon into smaller pieces to fit it into the cavity without having to untie the bird. If you need to truss, do this next.

Spread the butter over the breast and legs and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper (again, about 1 tsp large-flake salt). Put the chicken in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 375F/180C. Roast for one more hour. Test for doneness by piercing the thigh with a knife. If the juices run red, return the chicken to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. When the juices run clear, the chicken is done.

Remove it from the oven. Squeeze the remaining half lemon over the chicken and sprinkle with a pinch more salt. Let the chicken sit under a kitchen towel for at least 15 minutes before carving.

NOTE: Cooking time is roughly 15 minutes per pound, plus 15 minutes for a room-temperature bird. However, I always forget to check the weight of my chicken before throwing the butcher label into the trash, so I don't slavishly follow this guideline. I just roast for anywhere between 1.25-1.5 hours, depending when I remember to take it out. After an hour, it's generally done. Another way to tell if the chicken is done without releasing its juices with a knife is by the amount and quality of the juices at the bottom of the pan. If there is very little juice or if it is either clear or bloody, then the chicken is not done. The juices should be golden brown, plentiful and bubbling.

Serves 2
2 baking potatoes (such as russett or yukon gold)
leftover chicken drippings, duck fat, or oil
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Put the drippings/fat/oil (about 1/4c) into a baking dish and put in the oven to heat.

Bring to a boil a medium-sized pot of salted water. Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks, size depending on your taste. Boil the potatoes for 10-15 minutes or until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and add the potatoes, ensuring to cover the potatoes on all sides with the hot fat. Return to the oven for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are crisp and browned.

If roasting the potatoes alongside a chicken, add the boiled, drained potatoes to the roasting pan 30-45 minutes before the chicken is to come out of the oven.

Photo: Death Row Chicken, before and after roasting.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Have your pie filling and eat it too

I love pumpkin pie. Or rather, I love pumpkin pie filling. Since I don’t eat wheat flour, I eat my pumpkin pie with a twinge of guilt, scooping out the filling with my fork and leaving the empty pie shell behind.

I look forward to eating pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving, which will happen here in a few weeks. But, I’m getting impatient. The pumpkins are now in the store (another of my favourite orange vegetables). They beckon me.

Several weeks back, I had an idea to create a pumpkin cake with almond flour. I imagined the cake would taste like pumpkin pie filling: moist, spiced and mildly sweet.

I was inspired by a cake I make every Christmas: Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake (How to Eat), a dense flourless cake made with almond meal and egg, as well as whole clementine oranges. I thought pumpkin could easily replace the oranges, and brown sugar could replace the white sugar, add some spices, and voilà! Pie filling that can stand on its own.

The result, which I baked today, was a grand success. It tastes like pie filling with its eggy, almost custardy richness. It is moist yet firm, sweet and spiced. If you love pumpkin pie, you must try this cake. And, because it’s made with almond flour and eggs, it’s high in protein and fibre. I am so proud of this cake.

6 eggs
zest and juice of 1/2 orange
225g dark brown sugar
250g almond flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp each ground nutmeg, allspice and ginger
375g cooked pureed pumpkin
Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Prepare a springform cake pan (8-10 in. dia.) by greasing the inside with butter and lining with parchment paper.

Beat the eggs with a wire whisk or electric beaters. Stir in the zest, juice, sugar, flour, baking powder, and spices. Add the pumpkin and mix well. The batter will be quite liquid.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and place in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. If after 40 minutes or so the top begins to burn, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the pan and continue to bake until done.

When baked though, remove the cake from the oven. Leave the cake in the pan on a rack to cool. When cool, remove from the springform tin.

Serve either plain or with whipped cream or crème fraiche.


On the pumpkin: Cooked pureed pumpkin is available in cans at the supermarket, however I cooked mine from scratch. If you are cooking your own pumpkin, DO NOT buy a Jack-o-lantern pumpkin. Make sure you get your pumpkin from the produce department. It will be labelled as a “pie” or “cooking” pumpkin. To cook, cut pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and place each half cut-side down in a large casserole dish. Add water to the dish (about 1/2 in.) and place in a 400F/200C oven for 45 min or until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Scoop out the cooked flesh and puree in a food processor or with an immersion blender.

On the measurements: I got a kitchen scale a year or so ago and will never go back to measuring with cups when baking. If you are a fan of British cookbooks, you will already know that their recipes only give measurements for dry ingredients by weight, not volume. It's more accurate, and quite frankly way easier than leveling off measuring cups. You can get a good kitchen scale for under $30. Here's one at Canadian Tire.

Photo: Pumpkin cake.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's yam time

The arrival of fall signals the return of locally-grown orange vegetables to the produce department and thus, to my table. Of all the orange vegetables, my favourite by far is the yam.

I have read many arguments on the distinction between sweet potatos and yams. Scientifically, there are two species: sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and yams from the genus dioscorea. Why don't supermarkets list their vegetables by their Latin names to avoid the confusion? (Just kidding.) In North America, we tend to use the terms yam and sweet potato interchangeably, which doesn't help matters. The tuber I am writing about here has dark red skin and bright orange flesh.

I call them yams because I like the word.

Yams are best baked in the oven, at 400F (200C) for 45-60 min until they pierce easily with a fork. If you're pressed for time, cut each yam in half lengthwise and place them cut side down in a greased baking dish. This reduces the cooking time by half. Serve them hot with lots of butter and the best salt.

Yams are also great peeled and sliced, then baked or fried in oil. They turn soft in the middle and dark on the edges, the yam sugars caramelizing in the heat. Bake them in the oven at 425F (210C) and turn them once in the oil to ensure they brown evenly. On the stove top, add enough oil to the frying pan to fill the bottom by a couple of millimeters and heat the oil before adding the yams. They should sizzle when added to the oil. Again, turn them periodically to cook evenly.

I made this soup the other day, a double hit of orange. Given that most of the work is done in the oven, it's a cinch to make and tastes fragrant and sweet.

4-5 medium-sized yams
1 L chicken or vegetable stock
zest and juice of 1 orange
salt and pepper
Bake the yams in the oven. When they are soft, scoop out the flesh into a soup pot and add the stock, zest and juice. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the soup pot, or if using a blender, puree in batches and return to the soup pot. Once pureed, heat the soup to the desired temperature. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or water.

Serves 3-4

Photo: Double Orange Yam Soup.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ode to a smørrebrød maiden

When it comes to open-faced sandwiches, the Scandinavians are hard to beat. According to Wikipedia, in the United States, a sandwich must have at minimum two slices of bread to be legally considered "sandwich." Too bad for them. In Denmark, smørrebrød (pronounced smur-er-BREWTH) is literally "butter-bread": a thin slice of dense, whole-grain rye bread covered with butter, then adorned with a selection of traditional toppings (roast beef, shrimp, mackerel in tomato sauce, pickled herring, liver, breaded fried sole filets, and others). The butter, applied thickly, prevents the bread from becoming soggy.

The smørrebrød maker is loyal to tradition, as certain toppings are always combined with specific condiments. The frickadeller (Danish meatball) smørrebrød comes with red cabbage. The roast beef is topped with pickled cucumber and crisp, deep fried onion pieces. Soft white bread is used for the shrimp salad, beautiful pink shrimp topped with a dollop of mayonnaise, roe, a lemon slice and a sprig of dill. Smørrebrød are eaten with a knife and fork, and washed down with shots of Aquavit, a strong dill-flavoured schnapps. These shots are sipped in unison: someone at the table lifts her glass and taps the edge of table with her fingers, waiting until everyone has their glass ready in the air before shouting "skol!"

The smørrebrød shops in Copenhagen proudly display their beautifully assembled butter breads in their windows in neat, abundant rows. The smørrebrød makers, typically women, are called smørrebrød jungfru, or "smørrebrød maiden." They are akin to the sushi chef, as the smørrebrød maker is trained in the craft of smørrebrød and makes nothing else.

According to Birgitte Toft, a smørrebrød specialist at the Manhattan restaurant Aquavit, smørrebrød must be piled high with toppings: ''One important rule is that the bread must not show. It must be completely covered with ingredients to suggest abundance. It has to look much bigger than it is.''

We ate our smørrebrød this afternoon at Sunset Villa, a Danish association village in Crieff, Ontario. My husband's father is Danish, born and raised on Bornholm before arriving in Canada as a teenager in the early 1960's. Both of his parents, recently deceased, now reside in the mausoleum at Sunset Villa, and we visit them periodically, always enjoying a smørrebrød luncheon in their honour.

This New York Times article includes lists of the different traditional smørrebrød combinations as well as recipe for Danish liver pate.

Photo: This smørrebrød is made with smoked mackerel in tomato sauce, lettuce, chives, cucumber and sour cream.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Baking feeds the soul

One of my inspirations for starting this blog came by way of an old friend and her fabulous cookbook.

About eight years ago, tired of chronic daily allergies and colds every 6-8 weeks, I visited a nutritionist who told me to stop eating wheat (as well as any other glutinous grain: rye, spelt, kamut, titricale, semolina, oat, and barley). I complied, desperate to rid myself of waking up every morning with sneezes and a runny nose. Within several months, my allergies disappeared completely, but I was left with a huge, gaping chasm of loss: no baking.

I dealt with the absence of baked goods in my life as best I could. I bought gluten-free cookbooks to replace traditional baking, but found rice flour unpalatable and the reliance on gluten-replacement substances like guar gum unsettling. I would sometimes fall off the wagon, indulging in croissants and cookies, only to regret my actions when my body revolted. I would finger through my favourite cookbooks with sadness, longing for the satisfaction the writers felt with the simple baking and eating of a coffee cake. Eventually, I resigned myself to accept life without cookies, scones, breads, muffins. I would be okay.

A few weeks ago, I did a Google-search of "grain-free" and found a familiar name. Jenny Lass, my classmate from senior kindergarten through grade 8, is now a diagnosed celiac and co-author of the Grain-free Gourmet cookbooks. I ran out and bought her books and, with trepidation, began testing the recipes. The baked goods rely on almond flour for their substance, which, to my surprise, is readily available and tastes great. The introductions to each book are simple and informative, imparting the science and philosophy of the specific carbohydrate diet as well as the personal journeys of the co-authors. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with Jenny tomorrow afternoon after more than 20 years.

Yesterday, I made Basic Biscuits from the second cookbook, Everyday Grain-free Gourmet. I realized through this process that baking is not a result. It's a complete experience, from feeling the craving for something warm and comforting to eat, through preparing the dough, preheating the oven, and watching the baking rise and turn golden brown. I remember now being eight years old and waiting with anticipation, watching my cakes and cookies rise through the plexiglas window of my Easy Bake Oven, swelling under the heat of a 60 watt bulb. The completion of the baking experience is extracting the goods from the oven and eating them, warm and fresh. They are tiny miracles: the product of intention and patience.

I ate my biscuits with butter, yoghurt cheese, jam and a cup of tea. They were warm and soft and tasted exactly as I remember. Thank you, Jenny.

NOTE: The best way to buy almond flour is in bulk. It is available for as low as $6 per pound through and can be frozen to maintain its freshness indefinitely. Almond flour is also available in small quantities at health food stores, though is much pricier. I have also found almond flour in the health food section of my local supermarket.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Death Row Beans

There are certain meals in our home that we esteem beyond all others. We call these dishes our "death row" meals, the ones we would want to eat our last night on earth. Yes, it's a morbid classification. The system, however, has us continually attuned to some of life's essential experiences. This is one of my husband's selections. For me, this dish is a staple I make once or twice a week. I crave these beans. When I'm really hungry and desperate for sustenance, nothing else will do.

Serves 2-4
1 Tbsp light olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 14 oz. can cannellini beans (aka white kidney or tuscan beans), drained and rinsed
6-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 Tbsp each fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped fine (or 1/2 tsp each dried)
1 cup water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
handful flat-leaf Italian parsley, stems removed, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Peel the garlic clove and smash once under the base of the unopened can of beans. Add the garlic pieces to the oil. Once the garlic starts to sizzle, add the beans, tomatoes, herbs and water. Increase the heat to bring the beans to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and let simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes. The beans should continue to bubble.

Once the liquid has reduced and thickened, turn off the heat and add the extra virgin olive oil and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in large bowls with steamed greens, fresh crusty bread, or on their own.

NOTE: If the sauce doesn't thicken, mash some of the beans with the back of a spoon and stir the mash into the rest. This will do the trick. Also, if the beans lose too much water, don't be afraid to add more. They'll be fine.

VARIATION: If you have some bacon or pancetta in the fridge, cut a few slices into small bean-sized pieces and fry them with the oil and garlic until browned before adding the beans. The smoky flavour tastes unbelievably great with the beans.

This will be the first of many posts about beans. There is so much to say about the world's perfect food: debates to weigh in on, stories to share, information to impart. Stay tuned.

Photo: Death Row Beans with steamed kale.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It's pannekoeken time

When I smell fall in the air, I think of Amsterdam. This morning, the outside thermostat read 13 degrees and the house was cool and fresh. I felt like we were back in Holland where we spent our week-long honeymoon in October, 2002.

We stayed in a houseboat on a street called Achtergracht, a word that when properly pronounced summons vast amounts of phlegm. We realized once we arrived to the city that we had chosen our ideal honeymoon destination. We recovered from our wedding by spending our days wandering through museums and outdoor markets, recharging ourselves in "coffee shops," and walking along the canals. Fall had already settled on the city, as the trees had lost most of their leaves and the autumn winds gathered intensity with each passing day. The day before we returned to Canada, we were treated to a massive storm that whipped rain and debris around the city and made walking next to impossible. Our little houseboat held fast, though we could feel the canal waters churning beneath.

One of our favourite meals in Amsterdam was at one of the many pannekoeken huis, eating the large crepe-like pancakes they served with fresh fruit. In the photo above, my husband's fork is a blur, proof of how fast we gobbled down these Dutch treats.

I found many recipes for pannekoeken online. This one seems quite basic, and I saw this gluten-free one as well. Since I no longer cook with grain flour, I made my own version using almond flour and maple syrup. I can't remember if they taste like the Dutch version since it's been so long. No matter: They were really tasty.

Serves 1
1/4 c almond flour
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp maple syrup
Combine the almond flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Using a wire whisk or fork, beat in the eggs, vanilla and syrup. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to thicken.

Heat a large skillet or crepe pan over medium heat. Brush melted butter onto the heated surface (the butter should sizzle on contact when the pan is hot enough) and spoon out a third of the batter, swirling the pan around to distribute it evenly. Flip the pancake when the batter is no longer liquid and the edges start to brown and curl. Remove to a heated plate.

Serve with chopped fruit, syrup, ice cream, jam, ham and melted cheese, chocolate sauce, cinnamon and sugar, or anything else you can think of.

Makes 3 pannekoeken.

NOTE: If you like pancakes, a crepe pan is both inexpensive and indispensable. I bought mine several months ago and am amazed how pancakes never stick to the surface. Never wash your crepe pan -- only wipe it with a paper towel after use -- and never use it for anything except pancakes. It will be yours for life.

Photos: At top, my husband eating pannekoeken in a cafe in Amsterdam, October, 2002. Above, my well-seasoned deBuyer crepe pan.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Seasoning with salt

Learning how to season your home cooking with salt is your secret weapon. Food over salted is, of course, too salty. But under-salted food is tasteless and boring.

The first meal I cooked for my husband -- the dish we call “carrot and vermicelli” -- is famous only for being the blandest meal I ever made. The soup, inspired by the rice noodle pho we enjoyed at the Vietnamese restaurant near where we worked, was my offering to my then boyfriend of my skills as a potential life partner. My version was cooked rice noodles, shaved carrot and ginger, green onion, chicken breast and chicken stock from a can.

I remember preparing our meal in my tiny apartment kitchen so carefully. I assembled all the ingredients, thinly and evenly slicing the carrots, following the package directions on the vermicelli, and unwrapped the Japanese noodle bowls and chopsticks I had bought for the occasion. The result was beautiful to behold: a tangle of rice vermicelli beneath modest slices of carrots and chicken resting in broth and garnished with onion and ginger. It tasted, however, like carrot peelings with a vague hint of starch. I provided soy sauce for the seasoning, and toasted sesame oil for pizazz, but to no avail. I think we ended up ordering a pizza.

Just as the salt you use is a personal choice, so too is how much of it you add to your meals. My taste buds are fairly sensitive to salt, whereas my husband, who can scarf down plates of olives and hunks of asiago cheese, likes his meals saltier.

As you cook, you will learn how salty you like your food to be. I add salt to a dish based on the number of servings, measuring approximately 1/8 tsp ground salt (or 1/4 tsp large flakes, or one generous pinch) per serving. I provide salt at the table for additional seasoning to suit individual tastes.

I remade carrot and vermicelli the other night, tipping my imaginary toque to my first lesson in seasoning. I cooked the noodles, put a handful in a large soup bowl and ladled in a cup and a half of hot homemade chicken broth. I cut pieces of leftover chicken breast and sliced the carrots and green onion. (I was out of ginger.) Then, I salted everything with Maldon and added garlic chili oil for pizazz. It was wonderful.

With the leftover cooked noodles, I made this simple and delicious noodle salad for an afternoon picnic. I used chicken simply because it's what I had in the fridge, but you could use pork tenderloin, steak slices, tofu cubes, or leave out the protein altogether. Here is the recipe:

Serves 2
1 cup cold leftover cooked rice vermicelli
1 cup cold cooked chicken, sliced or pulled into thin strips
1 large peeled carrot, sliced into ribbons with a potato peeler
2 green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs (try cilantro, basil, parsley, mint or combination)
1 small yellow zucchini, sliced into thin discs
2-3 leaves swiss chard, sliced into ribbons (discard stems)
zest and juice of one lime
1 Tbsp flavourful oil (I used chili garlic oil. Toasted sesame would be great. Light olive oil would also be fine.)
Combine ingredients in a bowl, toss and serve.

NOTE: To make chili garlic oil, buy a 500mL bottle of light olive oil, open the lid and break back the inner plastic pouring guard with a knife. Add to the bottle 5-8 peeled garlic cloves and 3-6 red chili peppers cut in half lengthwise. Before adding the garlic, mash them a bit using bottom of a heavy can or mug to release the juices; the cloves should be broken open but not completely pulverized. You can also use dried chilies. Let the oil steep for several days to reach maximum potency. If it's too strong, add more oil; too weak, add more garlic/chilies.


There is only one ingredient in great cooking that is indispensable: good natural salt. Table salt -- the iodized variety, that nasty collection of mean, uniform crystals -- imparts a sour, metallic taste to food that is unnecessary and to my mind unforgivable. Salt should enhance and support the natural flavours in a dish, not smack those flavours into submission.

I feel for ingredients when they are unfairly overwhelmed by bad salt. I think of tomatoes growing on the vine, developing their redness, their tangy sweetness, preparing themselves for their day in the spotlight, only to be relegated to fifth fiddle.

There are many opinions on the kind of salt you should use in your kitchen:
Martha Stewart: “Coarse kosher salt has the best taste to my way of thinking. It imparts a better taste and consistency and it enhances natural flavor. I use it in all my recipes.”
Robert Carrier: “I prefer rough-ground seas salt, gros sel. I find food cooked with sea salt is far superior to food cooked with ordinary powdered salt, so I always have quantities of glistening white flakes on hand to grind into casseroles and salads.”

Nigella Lawson: “I want my salt to be Maldon.”

Alice Waters: “I keep two kinds of sea salt close by: a very coarse one sold in bulk (the gray kind, with its high mineral content, is especially good) for salting boiling water and brine, and a finer, flakier one for seasoning and finishing dishes.”

Giorgio Locatelli devotes three pages of his massive Made In Italy to the lowly mineral, with “natural sea or rock salt” as his preference.
As you can see, selecting your salt is a personal choice, however iodized table salt is not on the menu. I use two kinds of salt at home: Maldon salt for seasoning and finishing, and kosher or coarse sea salt for salting potato and pasta water, depending on what’s available in the supermarket.

Food is precious. Throw out that old box of table salt and buy some natural, non-iodized sea salt and notice the difference. You will like it.

Next post: Seasoning your food.

References: Feast (Lawson), The Martha Stewart Cookbook (Stewart), The Robert Carrier Cookbook (Carrier), The Art of Simple Food (Waters)

Photo: I keep my Maldon salt in a salt cellar by Mario Batali's cookware line. It has two compartments. I use a pestle to grind the salt in the top for baking.