The World of Spices
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The Mystery of Salt
I am just back from the Culinary Professionals Conference,
where I am happy to say, I ran into some friends from the barbecue
industry. I am glad to see this crossover. After all, Barbecue is one
great American contribution to the food world. While there, I talked with
Chris Schiesinger, author of The Thrill of the Grill, and Barbara Troop of
China Moon fame, who, like me, are on soap boxes about the importance of
the right salt as an ingredient, and the necessity of understanding the use
We take salt for granted. We use it everyday, in fact, we would die
without it. In spite of that, only two books in my reference library
mention salt in any way other than an ingredient in a recipe, and one of
those is the Knotes' book on Barbecue.
How salt functions is a bit of a mystery. Salt adds its own flavor to a
dish, but also enhances some flavors and inhibits others. It
tends to lessen the bitter taste and smoothes out harsh tastes so that
flavors blend more harmoniously.
All salt was originally a marine product. Some salt is mined from deposits
left after seas receded or dried-up. The salt is extracted, boiled down,
and crystallized in various degrees of fineness. Sea salt is extracted
from ocean water.
For 99 % of Americans, table salt is the only salt they know. It is finely
ground, highly refined with both added iodine and free-flow chemicals. I
think table salt is nasty. Taste it for yourself.
Rock salt refers to the salt used for ice cream machines.
"Coarse salt" is a common name for kosher salt. In my own cooking, I have
always used kosher salt without knowing why. If asked, I would have said I
felt I had more control or that it dissolved easier. Not so, it tastes
better. When I became involved in the spice business and began constantly
tasting and evaluating products, I discovered kosher salt is less harsh,
less bitter, and less salty.
It is a great background salt. I use it to enhance other flavors. A
simple example is the way chicken stock changes with the addition of kosher
salt. When the stock is reduced and before the addition of salt, I taste
strong (hopefully) chicken flavor; after adding salt, I taste chicken,
carrots, onions, and the other vegetables.
Sea salt is saltier and has a brighter flavor. I use it as a finishing salt
or an accent salt. Sea salt is obtained by evaporation of sea water,
either naturally or artificially from evaporation pans.
If you were at the NBBQA Convention, you have already experienced my taste
test on salt. For those who were not there, I urge you to taste it for
yourself. It is simple: taste kosher salt, then sea salt, and finally
Morton's, or any other table salt.
Salt has other uses, e.g., for thousands of years before refrigeration,
salt was used as a preservative. It is still widely use for preserving
olives, cheese, and seafood, as well as for curing. Salt preserves by
drawing out the moisture, therefore, limiting the humid environment that
fosters bacterial growth.
Salt can be a cooking agent. Gravlax, a traditional Swedish dish, can be
prepared at home.
6 Tbsp. Sugar
6 Tbsp. Salt
2 Tbsp. Black Pepper (Coarse) Fresh Dillweed
2 Lb. Salmon Fillet
Mix salt, sugar and pepper. Cover 1/2 fish with 1/2 spice mixture. Cover
with a layer of dillweed. Cover dillweed with remaining spice mixture.
Place second salmon fillet on top, skin side up. Wrap with plastic wrap
and weight down with heavy pan. Place in coldest part of refrigerator for
24 to 36 hours. Serve with rye bread and dill-flavored mayonnaise.
Copyright (c) 1998, by:
Ann D. Wilder, President
VANN Spices, Ltd.
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