Monday, September 15, 2008

Just a Little Tangent

Allow me to step up on my soapbox. Or, more accurately, my salt box. You see, I think I know why a lot of people say their cooking just doesn't taste right. It's salt. Or, rather, a lack thereof. Our family friend Annette, an amazing chef, has always said that salt is the most underused spice in the American kitchen. (Yes, I said spice.) People are so afraid that salt will make food taste salty, but that's just not true. Salt makes food taste like really delicious food. If you've ever eaten a meal with me, you know I love salt. Pickles, olives, salt & vinegar chips...but when I cook for anyone but myself, I use restraint...I don't subject people to my crazy love of tart and salty.

Still, I use more salt than the average person. Some people have watched me cook, noted my heavy hand with salt, and then commented that my food doesn't taste salty. They always wonder why. The answer: using salt is like turning up the volume on food's flavor. Unless you go majorly overboard, salt shouldn't be a flavor in and of itself.

Usually in the recipes I write, I don't give exact amounts of salt (or pepper), and it's because to learn to feel confident in the kitchen, you should get to know what the right amount of salt feels and tastes like. I say feels like, because I always (always!) use my fingers to distribute salt in a recipe. Kosher salt is the easiest to dispense by hand. It also evenly seasons things. It's the only salt I cook with. For salting things like French fries or popcorn, a fine-grain sea salt is my buddy.

There are all kinds of fancy salts...unrefined gray salt, smoked salt, pink salt, black salt, fleur de sel...which are all kind of like garnishes, in that they're not really for cooking, but for finishing dishes. This is a good resource for finding out more.

So, in conclusion, be bold with the salt. Use your fingers. Sprinkle it in the pan, taste, add some more, taste...and keep adding until it tastes amazing. Trust me, and trust yourself. You might be surprised to see how much you use, especially if you're not accustomed to using much salt at all. I promise you'll notice a difference.

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