Friday, September 5, 2008

Salt



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.

2 comments:

blsonne said...

Indeed - good salt makes an impressive difference. Use the best you can afford.

Especially (in my theory) when it concerns foods with subtle flavours... and finer items.

I swear it, and who knows perhaps I'm dreaming it, but on occasion I can taste the Iodine/Iodine compounds from the treated salt. I wonder if perhaps it 'sterilizes' some of the flavour from the food.

Linda at Milanese Masala said...

Welcome to the blogosphere! Great first post, btw.
I didn't really notice the difference in salt until I moved to Italy. And Luca absolutely hates cooking with Canadian iodized salt. Sea salt all the way, baby! "Sale grosso" for pasta water and soups and "sale fino" for seasoning.