Since I really did not do any cooking this weekend, I wish to discuss one of my favorite seasonings today. For the sake of political correctness, I will not be abbreviating Seasoning Showcase to “SS” since that has certain….historical meanings. The first contestant on the Seasoning Showcase is…….
Now I am fully aware that for some people, salt is one of the forbidden four-letter words. It even starts with an “s,” much like another. Trust me though, without salt, food would be horrible. Downright horrible. And when used properly, it is harmless.
Properly is a funny word though; it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Interpretation can be bad sometimes. So I will interpret for you!
Let me first start by saying that salt is unique in the cooking world in that it is a seasoning, but it is not an herb nor a spice. It’s not a vegetable, fruit or protein. It’s a rock. An edible rock called Sodium Chloride (NaCl for my chemistry majors). Not only is it used in cooking extensively, it is also used outside of the kitchen for a number of uses, but I will not get into those since this is not an “Outside of the kitchen blog.” It’s a food blog, for cryin’ out loud!
Now that I finally got all of the niceties out of the way, I can actually start talking about what I want to talk about. Where was I? Oh yes! Using salt properly. In my opinion, salt has three primary uses in the cooking realm.
- Seasoning food.
- To make something taste salty.
Now I will explain the above number points with a series of bullet points.
- Seasoning food is what I mostly use salt for. I think this is where people are the most timid when it comes to salt. If you were to watch me start my cooking process and start seasoning my food, you might think that I put entirely too much salt on my steak. Or my pork. Or my chicken. Or pretty much anything I cook. But, my faithful reader, you would be pleasantly surprised to find that the end product does not taste salty. You see, salt has this great ability to make the foods seasoned with it taste more like they are supposed to. I know. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is so true. Don’t believe me? Run this experiment and then tell me what you find:
- Cook an egg in a non-stick skillet however you like, but without any seasonings or extras. No milk. No cheese. No pepper. Maybe just a pat of butter in the pan. But that’s it. Now, when the egg has reached your desired doneness, eat it. It’s going to taste like…well, probably nothing.
- Now that you have deadened your palate, cook another egg using the same technique you used for the first one. Only this time, season it using a teaspoon or so of salt. Kosher salt, please. Once it has reached your desired doneness, eat this egg. You will notice quite a large difference in the two, because the second will have FLAVOR! But it’s not salty flavor! It’s egg flavor! Why am I so excited?! I don’t know.
I mentioned Kosher salt in the second part of the experiment, and it is worth noting right now that I pretty much only use Kosher salt in my kitchen. I don’t even have a salt shaker with the stereotypical grainy salt at my table. I have that much faith in both mine and my wife’s seasoning abilities. The only other salt I use is popcorn salt, but that’s just really really fine grain salt that I use to season popcorn and other things that do not cook long enough for the kosher salt to do its’ thing.
- I hope I’m not losing your interest. It’s hard to stay interested about salt, but it’s really important to understand. I will make these points a little shorter as to not bore you to death. You can thank me later. Back before the days of refrigeration, salt was used to preserve foods. The food would be encased in a dense salt dome that would prevent nasty bacteria from getting to the meat (generally) that the families were trying to save. Side bonus, the food was also getting seasoned! Nowadays, you will find a LOT of salt in frozen entrees and meals since salt is still used as a preservative even today.
- Finally, it may seem redundant to mention that salt is used to make something taste salty, but I think that this point is where most people are afraid of salt. Too much salt CAN blow out one’s palate and make them more thirsty than you can imagine. Potato chip manufactures are really good at doing this. I think they might be in cahoots with the beverage industry since they work symbiotically. Let’s see… people also put salt around the rim of their margarita glasses to add a salty punch to the citrusy drink they are imbibing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There are so many more things I could go on about with salt, but I fear that I have bored you enough. I truly hope that I have enlightened at least some of you on the many uses of salt, and to learn to not be afraid to use salt appropriately. Thinking back, I didn’t really do a great job at removing the area of interpretation, but that is just something I’m going to have to live with until such a time that I decide to change that.Love your life, stay positive, and play with your food 🙂