A Cook’s Guide to Using Salt

Flip casually through your recipe book, and you’ll find a common factor in almost every recipe contained therein. Sodium Chloride, more commonly referred to as salt. No doubt you’ve gone through most of your life taking the flavorful mineral for granted, seasoning your meals with nary a care, as salt has always been readily available. But if you’ve used salt in cooking, you may have come to appreciate its qualities a bit more than the casual diner. Salt can be used to enhance a dish, but misuse can also produce horrible effects, effectively ruining your meal.

Recipes will often simply mention salt as an ingredient. In this case, you should take care to use kosher salt, as it contains no iodine or additives, and produces a cleaner flavor. If a specific salt is mentioned in a recipe, it is most assuredly for a good reason, specifically the combination of flavors from the remainder of the ingredients.

There are also a number of things to take into consideration when using salt with certain foods, such as shellfish or meat. Salt can affect different foods in strikingly adverse ways. For example, seafood is naturally high in salt, so additional salt is usually not necessary, and will in fact serve to make shellfish tougher while cooking.

On the other hand, adding salt to meat, especially when cooking under high temperatures, will help draw out the fat from meat while sealing in the natural flavors and moisture.

Many recipes will ask you to season with salt according to your taste. Then we proceed to taste, usually with the tip of our tongue. This part of the tongue is actually the least sensitive. Try to taste with the whole tongue in order to get a more accurate representation of flavor. Also a factor in tasting is the temperature of the dish. A significantly hot dish will not impart a heavy salty taste because the heat will actually dull your taste buds, but a cold dish will also serve to dilute the salty flavors.

As a result of the above factors, over-salting is a common mistake, but many opportunities exist to save your dish from a horrible fate. If its a sauce that’s been over-salted, try adding a little brown sugar or vinegar to combat the savory with a bit of sweet. If its a soup, simply add some more liquid, or, you can add a peeled and quartered potato to the pot for about fifteen minutes. This will absorb some of the extra salt. Discard the potato afterwards.

Additionally, when cooking a sauce or soup, try to add salt toward the end of the cooking time, as the liquid will gradually be reduced during cooking and the salt flavor will begin to overpower the other flavors if added too early.

Speaking of salt and liquids, salt also has the ability to raise the temperature at which a liquid will boil, and lower the temperature at which it will freeze. When cooking pasta or vegetables, wait until the water is boiling to add the salt, or it will taken considerably longer to boil. The salt will also serve to make pasta and vegetable firmer as they cook. Some vegetable are also naturally high is salt, such as spinach or kale. Adding more salt is usually not necessary. And adding a bit of salt to water when boiling eggs will make them easier to peel.

Salt can be stored indefinitely, but salt exposed to humidity and moisture, such as salt in a shaker, can begin to clump. Placing a few grains of rice in the shaker will help to absorb the moisture and keep the salt free-flowing.

If you are in the habit of pickling or canning foods, then you are no doubt already aware of the harmful effects table salt can have, essentially turning the liquid to a cloudy brine and producing a bad flavor. There are special pickling salts available for such activities.

For bread-baking purposes, adding salt to the dough will not only enhance the flavor, but it helps control the yeast. Omitting salt will cause the bread to have a coarse texture.

There are many salt substitutes on the market, but if used other than a table salt, they can sometimes produce a bad flavor during heating. If you are trying to restrict your salt intake, try kosher salt. The grains are a bit coarser, so you will need to add less. As a rule, one tablespoon of kosher salt is equivalent to two teaspoons of table salt.

Regardless of how and what type of salt you use, try to follow the directions of the recipe, as the proper amount of salt is sometimes key to a wonderful, flavorful meal.

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