What is Sea Salt and How Do You Use It?

Cooking Salt

FR: Gros sel, Sel de cuisine

GER: Kochsalz

IT: Sale da cucina

SP: Sal gema, Sal de cocina

Table Salt

FR: Sel blanc, Sel de table GER: Speisesalz, Tafelsalz IT: Sale da tavola, Sale fino SP: Sal de mesa

Sea Salt

FR: Sel de mer, Sel gris, Sel marin GER: Meersalz IT: Sale marino SP: Sal de mar

Salt is the most fundamental of all the tastes in food, and it is a true taste detected in the mouth. The taste is due to the presence of monobasic anions and cations in the solution together, a statement that will mean more to those who did their chemistry homework than to cooks. In practice, saltiness is provided by sodium chloride (NaCl), because most other chlorides (e.g. calcium or potassium chloride) have unpleasant bitter tastes or are purgative or poisonous.

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Sodium chloride is one of the minerals essential to animal life. It is the most important salt in the sea, and it accounts for the saltiness of blood. Most people take in eight or ten grams of salt every day, of which only one to one and a half grams comes naturally from the food; the rest is added. Food without salt is dull, as unfortunate people who are put on a salt-free diet discover. Animals come for miles to salt licks, and travellers in the saltless regions, such as the Himalayas, will find salt a precious article of commerce.

The perfect salting of food is one of the most important acts of the good cook. ‘French chefs feel satisfied if the foods they send from their kitchens with their final approval have the supreme flavour; and that nothing must be added to them, not even salt and pepper. ’ * Well, that is a counsel of perfection because it is well known that some people (alcoholics in particular) like more salt in their food than others, but certainly if more than a few guests reach for the salt the cook has been careless.

The final adjustment of salt should, where possible, be left to the end of cooking when the contents of the pan have reduced as far as they are going to. If a dish is adjusted before this point, the amount of salt will in most cases be too great for the final amount of liquid and the dish will be much too salty.

Dishes one cannot taste before cooking (it takes a courageous and rather foolhardy cook to taste raw pig’s liver pate) must have the salt measured, but everything possible should be tasted.

When salting dishes, indeed when flavouring them with anything, a very important scientific principle is involved which put very crudely is this: the more salt you have added, the greater must be the quantity added to achieve an increase in saltiness. Therefore, timid use of salt is no good, as the amounts required become less critical, not more critical, as one approaches the point of perfection. (See pages 23-25.)

If, however, a dish is over-salted by mistake, there is little to be done, unless it is possible to increase the volume so that the salt is diluted. Sugar is antagonistic to salt, but whether it can be used will depend on the dish. Some dishes require a very fine balance between salt and sugar to be adjusted, but usually one cannot add sugar to ‘kill’ salt.

Salt brings out the flavour of other things. It is of value in the water used to cook vegetables, because it makes the cooking water a little less ready to dissolve the mineral salts out of the vegetables. It raises the temperature at which water boils. Dry salt extracts water from meat or vegetables by osmosis which is one reason for salting vegetables before they are pickled. It is also a powerful preservative. When it is present, some organisms are completely stopped from growing, and others are very much slowed down. This is why salt is used for preserving meat, fish, bacon and vegetables. It also ensures that only the proper flavour-producing organisms develop in bacon, ham, cheese and fish products, as well as such lactic acid pickles as sour cucumbers and sauerkraut.

Because salt is never quite pure sodium chloride, there is some variation in the flavour and saltiness of salt from different sources. Considerable variation exists from country to country both in flavour and origin. Rock salt occurs in underground deposits usually formed by the drying up of ancient seas. It is crystalline, clear, white or pink from salts of iron. It can also contain traces of unpalatable soda or Epsom salts and even, on occasions, poisonous salts of arsenic or barium. By its very nature, rock salt is unpurified, but only that from safe deposits would be sold for human consumption. At its best, rock salt is regarded by many people as the finest flavoured of all salts. It must, of course, be ground for use at table in a wooden salt mill or pounded with a pestle and mortar. common kitchen salt is usually obtained by pumping water into salt bearing underground strata and then pumping up the brine. This brine has then to be concentrated by evaporation until the salt crystallizes out. During the process of crystallization, the salt is to some extent purified. It is the common everyday salt in many countries, available in different degrees of coarseness, and in blocks and tablets. table salt, though of the same origin, is ground fine, and specially treated to prevent caking. It is usually rather pure sodium chloride from which other salts having hygroscopic (water grabbing) characteristics have been removed. Starch, phosphate of lime and other substances which promote free running have usually been added. It is the least interesting in flavour.

SEA SALT is the common salt in many countries, and in others it may be bought in health food stores and good grocers. In its crude form it is often known as ‘bay salt’ because it is obtained by evaporating sea water in enclosed bays. Sea water itself contains a high percentage of sodium chloride and many trace elements ranging from iodine to silver and even gold, but it also contains considerable quantities of purgative, bad tasting and even poisonous salts. However, purification takes place during even the most primitive methods of evaporation, and the salt left has a good flavour and is recommended by many health experts. spiced salts are hallowed by tradition and were certainly sold in the last century and made at home for many centuries before. For illustration I quote the following (one of many recipes): ‘4 teaspoons of ground nutmeg and ground cloves; 2 teaspoons each of white pepper, powdered thyme, dried bay leaf, and mixed marjoram and rosemary; 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to give it punch.’ This to be mixed with a pound of sea salt. It might be sensible to reduce the salt in such mixtures, as one can always add more salt to a dish if one wishes.

As salt is a powerful preservative, a physical help when flavourings must be ground with a pestle and mortar, and an ingredient of all savoury or meat dishes, it is a rather time saving device to prepare and keep variously flavoured salts in the kitchen. Garlic may be pounded with salt, although the flavour is never as good as fresh garlic, and celery seed, which is difficult to pound alone, may be pounded with salt to make celery salt. These and various other flavoured salts (we might mention salt flavoured with hickory smoke) are available commercially in America and Britain. They are part of the new vogue for quick cookery, but celery salt and ‘oriental’ salt are excellent with gulls’ or plovers’ eggs.

Although it is a pity to rely on such products completely, and commercial products remove romance from cooking and destroy individuality, they can be useful on occasions. But it is also perfectly easy to make flavoured salts at home and then one is free to combine any flavours, and can give free rein to self expression. It is unrealistic to pretend that we are never in a hurry, and anything which helps towards cooking quickly without losing the personal touch is bound to be valuable. vegetable salts. These are various special salts of vegetable origin. The flavour of some of these is excellent. ‘Mineral salts’ are of course present naturally in vegetables and are essential to one’s health.

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