Friday, May 28, 2010

Ask Chef Mary Fridays...Salt

Dear Chef Mary,

I’m curious to know what kind of salt you use, what’s the difference between table, kosher and sea salt, and when do you like to season foods (the beginning, middle or end)?


Dear Beth,

During culinary school we learned that seasoning is the most important factor of cooking and seasoning is mostly done with salt. For a very brief time in my culinary career, I was clueless about the different types of salt. Through all of our cooking, I quickly learned that kosher salt is and was the best salt to use when cooking; however, the other salts that you mentioned have their place in the kitchen; you just need to know how to use them.

Kosher salt is made up of large grains and, like all salts, is a combination of sodium and chloride. The benefit of the larger crystal is that it coats more evenly than table salt, and when you season meat with it, it creates a delicious outer layer of flavor. It’s also less salty than table salt when the two are equal in quantity. This is due to the size of the crystals. Kosher salt is bigger; therefore it takes fewer grains to fill up the allotted measuring device, which makes it less salty. This salt is also used to make meats “kosher” because it helps extract juices from meats, which is part of the koshering process hence the name kosher salt.

As well as sodium and chloride, table salt also contains iodine and it’s a much smaller granule. It’s best used at the table where guests may add salt to their food if needed. Table salt is so fine that it’s difficult to detect on raw meat as you’re salting it. Typically, people over salt their foods when they use table salt because they can’t see what they’re doing. Both table salt and kosher salt are considered rock salts that are retrieved from mines.

Sea salt is a whispier salt that crunches and melts on your tongue quickly. It’s a great finishing salt for salads, cooked proteins and even sweets. Sea salt is derived from the sea marshes of both the inland waters and lakes. It’s made by containing seawater and allowing it to evaporate over time. What’s left behind is the sea salt and, because it comes from different regions with different types of minerals, it turns the salt into a multitude of colors (pink, grey, black, red, etc.).

As far as cooking and seasoning with salt, I find it’s best to season all the way through the cooking process. When you add salt at different stages, such as the beginning, middle and end, you’ll release different flavors from the item that you’re cooking. However, if you’re concerned with too much sodium in your diet, wait until the end to season your food with salt and do NOT use table salt.

Beth, just remember, you don’t want food to taste like salt. You want to enhance the flavor of the food and not dominate it with a salty flavor. I found that keeping a saltbox filled with kosher salt next to my stove allows me to cook easily in my kitchen. Though I use kosher more consistently, I love all varieties. I hope this was helpful.

Happy Cooking!

Chef Mary