As a chef salt is something that features in nearly every one of my dishes, even dessert. It gets our taste buds going and sharpens the flavour of food. Good seasoning is one of the most important skills any good cook needs to master.
But there is more to salt than just something we sprinkle on our chips.
Firstly I’d like to talk about the kinds of salt available. The most common salts you will find are table salt, rock salt and sea salt. There are other kinds such as black salt and Himalayan pink salt but you won’t often find these on the super market shelves so we won’t be touching on those today.
Table salt is the most common. Free flowing, and cheap it’s an obvious choice. However being heavily processed it is stripped of any other minerals like magnesium and often has an anti-clumping additive added, as opposed to sea salt which is minimally processed. Often just simply being sea water that has been evaporated off over heat or even just left out in the heat of the sun. This means that the salt is actually more than just pure sodium chloride, such as table salt, but a mixture of sodium chloride and as many as 30 other essential minerals.
These extra minerals can give sea salts a sweeter and tangy taste, as opposed to the often acrid, harsh taste of the refined and processed table salt. Flavour wise there is just no comparison between table salt and a good sea salt like Maldon or Cornish. Also I feel sea salt has a stronger, more pronounced salty taste, meaning you use less of it.
This of course though is all personal preference, as with any ingredient in cooking, you should use what you enjoy to eat, regardless of what other people say you should!
Another bonus to sea salt, particularly the Maldon and Cornish varieties, is the texture. Due to the slow evaporation of the water, sea salts are often formed of large soft crystals, which are perfect to finish food, crumbled between the fingers they are as much there for texture as seasoning.
However, even with the extra minerals sea salt is still sodium chloride, just like table salt, meaning we should all be aware of how much we consume, due to the associated health risks with all forms of salt.
Salt whether table or sea salt, isn’t just there to season, it also has the great many other uses, one of which is the effect of reducing bitterness in food. This is particularly useful in stock and sauce making, homemade stocks sometimes have a slight bitterness to them. Many peoples first choice would be to sweeten the stock with sugar. But salt is much more effective at this, it’s more a case of suppression of bitterness than increasing sweetness.
A great way to show this is to take some dark chocolate, over 70% works best, and sprinkle with a small amount of salt before eating. You should notice a sweeter taste to the chocolate. You can also add a pinch of salt to tonic water for the same effect, the water on its own is very bitter, but as you add more salt the bitterness lessens considerably.
Salts other useful skill is the fact that it removes water from fruit and vegetables, this is called degorging. Cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines are the most common to degorge, a few minutes sprinkled with salt pulls out lots of the water, intensifying the flavour and firming the flesh.
This technique is brilliant when making coleslaw, sprinkle the onion, cabbage and carrot with salt, leave for an hour or so, wash with fresh water and then dress with mayo as usual. This degorging stops the coleslaw turning watery after a few hours.
Degorging also works wonders with fish, lightly salting white fish such as cod and haddock pulls out the water from the fish, firming up the flesh and stopping too much water releasing when it is cooked. This is particularly useful when battering fish. Simply sprinkle with the salt, leave for twenty or so minutes and then wash off with plenty of cold water and pat dry with a paper towel and cook!
So although too much salt is no good for anyone, it does still deserve its place on everyone’s kitchen shelf, and not just for sprinkling on chips!