Jan 9, 2009

salt of the sea

salt. i do not have a sweet tooth, but i do have a salt tooth. i just love the taste of salt. most flavors are improved by it, and my favorite cuisines (vietnamese, japanese, french, italian are all about the balance of the salt and the sweet and the sour and sometimes the spice). years ago a very good friend of mine in california made me aware of the benefits of sea salt. she and her sister are excellent cooks and had discovered the wonders of sea salt and how much better it tasted. at first, i was not so sure, the little girl with the umbrella had been supplying my salt needs, and my mother's salt needs, all our lives. 

being me, i approached the concept slowly and deliberately with a bit of experimentation. it was a better texture, especially on meat, namely beef and pork. and my, yes, the lemon roast chicken also benefitted. but then the vegetables. now i cook many vegetables. vegetables like green beans and cranberry beans and lima beans and cauliflower and broccoli and artichokes and asparagus. most of the time i blanch all of these until tender in salty water. i do not drown them in the water, the water fills about two inches of the pan, and so they steam a little too. and the salt is generous, but not too generous. i find about 2 to 2.5 teaspoons does the trick. the vegetables taste lively, fresh, and it enhances all their natural characteristics. this is a chef trick by the way. to boil (or blanch as they call it) vegetables in salt water to "brighten" their flavors like magic. they are right. a famous french chef once said the water should be as salty as the ocean to cook vegetables perfectly. i find the atlantic and pacific oceans quite salty (i have yet to taste the others) and so use a bit less. but i firmly believe in the spirit of his instruction. be generous with the salt in the water and believe me, you will be eating a lot more vegetables in no time at all.  and sea salt has a more balanced mineral content (magnesium, calcium, iron, varying on the brand and harvest location). in julia childs THE WAY TO COOK she makes a note about steamed vegetables tasting awful and says you shouldn't let nervous nutritionistas ruin your cooking. i agree. however, corn on the cob and sugar snap peas are the only veg i have found that need no salt during cooking, and are in fact better without.

i use the baleine whale salt for multi purpose use, pasta water, veg water, baking, etc. it has the most uniform and predictable granulation texture. 
i love the himalania pink salt, it has a wonderful sandy texture and lots of minerals, but is frankly a bit too, well......salty for every day use.

the fleur de sel from the island of re is my very favorite salt of all. i use it on roasting vegetables and on meat, where the crustiness it creates is really wonderful, as though it is sealing the meat. i also use it in salads. none of these salts leave the slightly industrial metallic taste i have noticed sometimes with more highly processed salt, the iodine perhaps?

salt of the earth is a wonderful expression, usually meaning a person of interesting or exceptional character. if you salt the earth you ruin it for planting crops. now if you spill salt, a highly valuable commodity in the old days, you are inviting the devil to your door.  and so, as everyone knows, you are to throw some over your left shoulder, whereby you will then be throwing salt in the devil's face. which will keep him at bay. i like that. salt warding off evil, just one of its many magical properties.

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