Secret ingredients. We all love them and we all want to be in the know. So I’ll let you in on a secret ingredient that professional chefs use all the time. Salt! No, not just any salt. They know which salt to use to bring out the best in whatever dish they are creating. Chef’s also know how much salt to use in any given dish, and guess what? It’s a lot more than you likely use at home!
Before gold or money, salt was the currency. Why? Well it’s not only necessary to human life, but it brings out the flavor in anything that it touches. It’s better than gold! Ever tried chicken stock without salt? It tastes like dirty dishwater. The trick is to keep adding salt until it tastes flavorful and rich. My kids used to ask for more sugar on their oatmeal. I could load up a bowl of oatmeal with tons of sugar, but if instead I took the salt shaker and sprinkled a little on, guess what? Like Goldilocks eating Mama Bear’s porridge, it was “Just right.”
All salts are not created equal. With different mineral contents and flavors, there are literally thousands of different choices. But in this article we’re going to stick with the basics: Kosher, sea, or table salt.
Heavily processed to eliminate trace elements, table salt is mined from underground salt deposits and is bleached, heated and contains an additive, calcium silicate, to prevent clumping. Imparting a “sharper” flavor than kosher or sea salt, its fine crystals are considered *saltier than kosher salt.
Iodized table salt means that iodine has been added. When buying table salt I always recommend iodized (Read on to find out why.)
Cooking with table salt: Because table salt is quite inexpensive and contains iodine, I do use it on occasion. Specifically I use it to salt the water when I boil pasta or potatoes.
Kosher salt can be made by compacting smaller granular flakes into larger irregular platelet shaped flakes or grown this way via the evaporation process. Minimally refined and sourced from either underground deposits or evaporated seawater, kosher salt tastes “less salty” than table or sea salt.
Kosher salt originally got its name from the Jewish practice of koshering meats. When applied to butchered meat, its larger flakes allow the salt to easily draw blood without over-salting the meat.
Cooking with Kosher salt: I generally reserve Kosher salt for meat and recipes that call specifically for it. Because the larger flakes hold onto moisture, Kosher salt essentially holds the moisture inside of the meat. It keeps pork chops tender, steaks juicy, and chicken breast moist.
See for yourself. Salt one chicken breast with table salt and another with kosher salt. The one with kosher salt will retain its moisture much better than the chicken breast salted with table salt. Try my recipe for Garlic Grilled Chicken Breasts and you’ll see what I mean. “Succulent” is the word that comes to mind!
Sea salt is harvested directly from evaporated seawater or underground resources. If any processing occurs it is usually minimal. Sea salts from around the world are coveted for their unique flavors, colors, and trace minerals. Sea salt can be costly, so keep in mind that its flavor is lost in the cooking process and is best used after cooking, or in applications that do not require cooking.
Whether pink, gray, black or white, sea salts will contain different minerals and impart various flavors, depending on the environment from which they were harvested. Enjoy trying different kinds of sea salt over steamed veggies, on sliced tomatoes and salads, and around the rim of your favorite cocktail.
Cooking with sea salt: There are so many different kinds of sea salts available and I treat them differently. If it is an expensive “finishing salt” then I will slightly under-salt the dish I am cooking and “finish” it with this type of sea salt.
If it is my go-to sea salt that I treat like a table salt, then I will use it in cooking applications. Eggs are a great example of a food in which I add sea salt before cooking, but still want the flavor and mineral content that comes with sea salt.
Himalayan Pink Salt
I’ve had many of you comment about Himalayan Pink Salt and asked me to include it here. Known for its purity and and mineral content, it’s become a favorite of mine, not because of it’s color, but because it has a lovely soft flavor that imparts none of the sharpness that can come with heavily processed standard table salt.
Although much of the Himalayan Pink Salt on the market comes in big chunks which you can grind yourself, I personally now buy the fine grind (you can get it here) simply because I find I can use it in more applications because I can gauge the amount I’m using more easily.
Cooking with Himalayan Pink Salt: It’s wonderful on salads, in soups, and any application where you would use sea salt or table salt.
The Importance of Iodine
We can’t talk about salt without including iodine. Iodine is essential for normal thyroid function. In fact iodine deficiency is considered “the most common cause of preventable brain damage in the world.” Thus it is important to buy iodized table salt.
If you prefer to use all natural sea salt, then Redmond Sea Salt is an excellent choice. It is harvested in Redmond, Utah and is not processed or altered in any way. It contains trace minerals, including iodine (not as much as iodized table salt, however, Redmond Sea Salt claims it is more readily absorbed than the iodine we find in table salt) and can be found at many grocery stores. You can purchase it online, here.
Table salt that does not have iodine is good for neti-pots and gargles. I keep a container in my medicine cabinet for these occasions.
Whether it’s on the rim of the glass of your favorite margarita, the finishing touch on your famous green beans or a sprinkle on top of those homemade caramels, salt can be the finishing touch that makes friends and family want to know your secret ingredient.
Special Cooking Notes
If a recipe specifically calls for “table salt” or “kosher salt” it is best to use what is called for, as a teaspoon of table salt is the equivalent of a tablespoon of kosher salt.
As a general rule, I always use Kosher salt on un-cooked meat. There is no easier way to turn out a tender and juicy piece of meat than generously salting with Kosher salt before cooking.
*By weight, sea salt, kosher salt and table salt contain the same amount of sodium. That being said, when salt is called for in a recipe, it is generally not measured by weight, but volume.