Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Could you pass the "Salt" please...
As a cook I fear the day that a physician tells me that I have to reduce my salt intake. Salt is everything to food...it isn't the Flavour of the Food .. but it is the enhancer!! Salt just makes everything pop on our tongue...the simple truth is it doesn't make anything taste any better..we just love it's taste. I could not live without the stuff!! Most of the Planet would agree.
Thru the ages it has played an important role in human civilization. It allowed us to cure meat...which allowed us to travel great distances...which allowed us to explore our planet. It has been used as payment for services...it has started wars and it has ended wars. Most recently during the Revolutionary War the British used the Tories to intercept the Rebels salt supply and destroy their ability to preserve food. During the War of 1812 they used Salt Brine to pay the soldiers because the Government was too poor to use money. It has played a pivotal role throughout history.
Salt comes to us in one of two ways. It is either mined as Rock Salt or it is created by evaporating Sea Water to create Sea Salt. A cooks kitchen usually contains three forms of salt. Table Salt for the Pastry department, Kosher Salt for all cooking and Fleur de Sel (or Sea Salt).
Table salt has Iodine and an anti-caking agent added to it. It is usually a fairly fine grind...which allows us to shake it at the table. The Iodine is added to prevent Iodine deficiency in our bodies...which leads to Thyroid gland problems. This form of salt is mainly used for cooking and as a table condiment. It is mainly found in North America. In France 35% of all Salt contains Floride...due to the lack of it in their water. Another additive which can be added is Folic Acid...which results in a yellow tint to it. In Canada, Windsor Salt (our most common) adds Inverted Sugar to our Salt....the reason for this is unclear...but just adds to our weight problem.
Kosher Salt is the most common in any commercial kitchen. I open a box a day at least. All salt is Kosher...even table salt. Kosher salt is compacted salt grains which form small flat platelets. These larger flat grains draw the blood from the meat better during the Koshering process. The grains are larger which allows them to remain instead of dissolving into the meat...which draws the fluids out of the meat...rendering it Kosher. I would use Sea Salt in the kitchen 24/7...but Kosher is more economical of the two. It also has a milder flavour than table salt.
Sea Salt and Fleur de Sel are the superstars of the kitchen. Both are created via evaporation. Sea water is evaporated until Salt crystals form. The mineral content of the water affects its colour and flavour. Once the water has been evaporated it is then ground to the grain size wanted. Fleur de Sel is typically hand harvested..the workers scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks into the Salt Marsh or Pan. Brittany is where the finest Fleur de Sel originates. It is our most expensive form of Salt in our kitchen. It is sold in airtight containers...it usually has a slightly damp look and feel to it.
Now that you know a little bit about Salt...lets get to the real reason for the post. Finishing Salts!!
Finishing salt is a generic term given to Salt which has a special mouth feel, flavour or colour that would be "Lost" if used during the cooking process. Finishing Salt is the last thing to hit the plate before it is handed off to the server to be brought to the guest. Which preserves their special characteristics for your guest to enjoy. With that being said ....they can be just about anything. Any flavour you can think of can be made into a Finishing Salt. They make the dish just that little bit more special...it's the little things that all add up to an amazing meal. They are usually extremely expensive to purchase...$165.00 for 12oz of Soy Salt....gimme a break. I am a cook....and a frugal cook at that...today we learn how to make overpriced Salt.
Today we are going to make a few:
Dragon Salt (a $200 p/lb black tea from China)
Citrus Salt (the semi-dried Peel from a Lemon and Lime- I dried them in the microwave on paper towel)
Cilantro Salt (the semi-dried leaves of Cilantro)
Cumin Salt (Toasted Cumin Seeds)
Bee Pollen Salt (Bee Pollen Granules-found at some Health Food stores)
Lavender Salt (Organic Lavender Blossoms that have been dried)
You can make these salts in about 30 seconds. Combine ¼ cup of Sel Gris or other coarse Sea Salt and 1 teaspoon of the flavor ingredient. I just use a coffee grinder to blitz the two ingredients together. You could also use a Microplane, Zester or even a Knife depending on the grain size your looking for.Your Salts can be any level of coarseness you choose...fine or coarse. At home we use a fine...at work I would use a more course...it just looks better visually. Flaked Salt also looks very nice...but the ingredient you mix in must be a fine fine powder...and you must be very gentle when combining. I stick to just one ingredient for the most part... you can mix and match your favorite flavours though.
Try them on Poached Eggs, Baked Spuds, Grilled Seafood, BBQ'd Corn on the Cob, Soups, basic Pastas, Chicken, Wild Greens, Noodles, Burgers, Roasted Vegetables even Tofu . . . on any finished food that you would season with normal salt. Just about anything can be made more flavourful with them. You can also place a small bowl directly on the table and have guests salt their own food. If your having a curry, put out a Chili Salt, a Kafir Lime Leaf Salt, a Coconut Salt and a Cilantro. You will notice the deep concentrated flavour that they impart into the food. Remember that you can turn just about any item you really enjoy into a salt.....I was tempted to make Bacon Salt....nothing like the taste of Pig and Salt!! Oh my god...I almost forgot...POPCORN ... let me say it again...POPCORN....a thousand times better than plain old salt.
Next time I think I will try to do some Canadian Flavours...Smoked Salmon Salt (dried Sm.Salmon), Maple Salt (Maple Sugar Candy), Morel Salt (dried BC Morels...or local if I can find someone that has some), Pine Salt (baby Pine shoots on the branches), Cranberry Salt (dried Ontario Cranberries) or maybe even .... Bacon Salt... hehe
Have fun playing with the flavours...small touches do matter when it comes to food!!