Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Truth About Salt and How to Salt Food

Okay, this is about salt. Salt is a vital part of cooking. It always has been, it always will, and it always should be, every time. (Image Credit)

I know there will be an argument that some people can't have salt due to high blood pressure. However, according to Health.org, "75 percent of the sodium we consume is hidden in processed foods like tomato sauce, soups, condiments, canned foods and prepared mixes." That's a lot of sodium that we don't have control over. Imagine that, just 15% of the average intake comes from salting at our own discretion. 

The truth is, the amount of salt we add to our dishes can't even reach the level of sodium found in most processed foods. A can of tomato soup can have several times more sodium than the amount you would throw into a pot of homemade soup. Just keep in mind, the recommended healthy daily intake given by LiveStrong.com for sodium is 1,500 mg (2,300 mg being the max) "or less than 600 mg per serving size. For instance, 1 cup of Campbell's split pea soup contains 779 mg of sodium. On the other hand, a 2-cup serving of a homemade split pea soup from "The Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook" contains 364 mg of sodium."

My point is, when you salt while cooking, use a generous hand and rest easy that you won't be pushing the limits of what's healthy and what's not.

That said, I want to explain how I salt in my cooking. I picked this tip up from one of Michael Symon's cookbook. (You know, back before he became a bacon-and-pork-loving caricature of himself. I'll just leave it at that. Go Zack Bruell!) Anyway, he said that we should salt our food in stages so that in the end, we're not dumping a handful of salt in our pots. "It's too late by then," he says. The dish develops flavors aided by salt throughout the cooking process. And salting your dish after it's hit the dining room table? Way too late.

Salt isn't meant to make food salty. Its properties help draw out the flavors that already exists in the ingredients. It brightens the essence and makes it bolder, more stand out. It also helps melds the ingredients together into a single savory, sweet, tart piquancy. So no, salting your dish isn't to make it salty, it's to make it flavorful. So when you're tasting, you're looking for the taste of what went into the dish. Is it stronger, brighter, or even milder in case of onions, garlic, and other pungent ingredients? (Image Credit)
Even though my recipes I've posted so far say to salt to taste somewhere near the end of the method, I wanted to take the time to explain how I do it so you can choose the way you like best. I begin the salting process at the very beginning. Most dishes start with onions and sometimes celery, carrots, and/or peppers. I let the vegetables hit the hot olive oil and give a good shake of salt over it- just enough that it flavors the vegetables in the pan already. After each step or two, I'll give it another shake of salt, being sure to taste it often to make sure the seasoning doesn't become too much.

In the case of using vegetable stock or bullion cubes, I am a little less liberal with my salt since these two ingredients tend to have a bit of sodium already. I make a point to buy low-sodium versions where I find them too.

Just think about it though, you've seen chefs on television demonstrating a recipe. Take the time to notice just how much salt they throw in. It's usually quite a bit, a palmful or handful nearly every time. These chefs know what they're doing and trust me, they're not cooking special occasion dishes, this is how they cook everyday.

The type of salt I use? Sea salt. As for the differences between table, kosher, and sea salt, I'll go over that in another post so you're not completely overwhelmed. I just threw a bunch of information at you already, but I hope that you're looking at how you salt your food a lot differently now. I don't know about you, but I'm suddenly craving a bit of salt right now!

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