Brought to you by our in-house Chef Kai Salimaki
There are many basics to cooking and they all stem from understanding what and how our food reacts together and what senses are aroused on the palate. Our palate identifies five basic tastes: Salty, Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Umami. The key to making great tasting food is preparing dishes with balanced flavours including all the above tastes. Today we will examine Salt and its role in cooking.
Ask any Chef worth their merit and they’ll say the easiest and most simple “kitchen hack” would be to season your food appropriately. It is really amazing how a simple pinch of good salt (we’ll talk about that later) can go a long way. Salt is a natural flavour enhancer for any food but it helps to understand salt at its different applications/functions.
As a Nutrient: Salt contains sodium which is vital to the human body and helps sustain the proper balance of minerals and water in the body. Another nutrient that the body requires is iodine which is not commonly found in food. This has been added as a supplement to most table salts to help with the natural diet.
As a Preservative: Salt has been used for centuries as a preservation technique, whether it is salt cod or beef jerky, the principles are the same. Proteins are rubbed and covered in salt for a period of time and allowed to dry out. The salt draws out excess moisture from the protein making it inhabitable for any harmful bacterias to survive.
As Texture: Especially true with finishing salts, a little fleur de sel or maldon on top of a steak can add a beautiful salty crunch.
As a Binder: Salt is commonly used in production of sausages and prepared meats where it acts as a binder creating protein gels that help bind meats together forming smoother emulsions.
As Color: Again with curing and preserving meats, sodium nitrate is added to salt to help retain a pinking hue to meats giving it a more appetizing look.
Cooked Vegetables: Salting the water for boiling or blanching vegetables speeds up cooking by hastening the breakdown of hemicelluloses, substances that help hold vegetable fibres together. Because pure water draws salts and other soluble nutrients from the interior of vegetables, salting vegetable cooking water also minimizes nutrient loss.
Grilled Meats: Seasoning meats with salt or a salty spice rub draws out protein-rich juice that dries on the surface during cooking, creating a crisp, deeply seasoned crust.
Pasta, Rice and Potatoes: Salting the water for boiling these starchy ingredients improves their flavour by allowing the salt to permeate the ingredients and season the food from the inside.. Also, when dried pasta hits boiling water, starches on the surface of the noodles gelatinize and become sticky. Salt limits this starch gelation, so liberally salting pasta water reduces stickiness as it flavours the pasta.
If you’re adding salt solely for seasoning the best time to do it is at the end of cooking. That way, the salt crystals hit your palate directly, and you get the greatest flavour impact with the least amount of salt. Also, by salting at the end of cooking, it’s easier to salt to taste and avoid oversalting!
Types of Salt
Believe it or not, all salt is not created equally. Some salt is more “salty” than others and each salt has its own unique properties. We’ll go over the most common salts on the market and their applications.
Unrefined salt or Finishing Salt: Most commonly known as sea salt (but sometimes rock salt), evaporated in open-air and left unwashed so it retains trace minerals and other components that provide unique flavours, aromas, colours, and crystal structure. This category includes fleur de sel, gray salt, flake salt (like the British Maldon Salt) and some flavoured salts. Best used to finish your food/meal with a light sprinkling to enhance the dish. We recommend Township 27’s White Sea Salt and for a little mix up, try their Smoked Sea salt to finish steak, poultry or pork!
Table Salt: Tiny, uniform, granulated crystals of refined salt containing 95 to 99 percent sodium chloride and usually has some sort of anti-caking/anti-clumping agent incorporated. I find this salt very “salty” and should be used sparingly. Use it to season your pasta water or vegetable blanching water.
Kosher Salt: Coarsely ground refined salt manufactured for kosher cooking or butchering. Its large crystals draw blood and moisture from the surface of meat helping provide a nice crust to protein cooking. This is my everyday seasoning salt. In kitchens, this is used predominantly due to its coarser texture and ease of sprinkling evenly across food.
Pickling Salt: Also known as canning salt or preserving salt, this is mainly used for, you guess it, pickling! Typically void of any additives that can contribute “off-flavours” in your canning/pickling, this salt is dissolved easily in brines.
Again, the key to using salt is understanding which salt to use. I’ve been asked many times, how much salt should I use? The answer really is season, taste and reseason if needed! Don’t be afraid of salt and keep experimenting with your dishes to find your right balance. One person’s palate is different than the next, some people are more sensitive to salt and need very little. Add sparingly, adjust and enjoy!