Salt would probably get a bit salty about the bad rap it tends to have nowadays. Once upon a time, salt was so valuable it was used as currency. Entire civilizations depended on it. Today, of course, we often see stories about limiting our salt intake and hear how we are probably consuming way too much sodium. Clearly, there’s a balance to be found.
While it is true that much of the processed food out there is chalk full of way too much sodium, salt continues to play an integral role in home kitchens. It is the most common seasoning and, when used correctly, brightens your cooking by bringing out flavors in ways nothing else can. There’s a reason almost every home for thousands of years has had salt available to cooks and diners alike.
Salt has been mined from the ground or collected from evaporated sea water for millenia. Some of the first towns ever settled were created just to collect the nearby salt. Humans quickly realized that meats, fish and other food could be preserved in salt and saved for a less bountiful time.
Today, chefs have learned many methods to use salt in surprising or unexpected ways. Anyone who has had paired cheddar cheese with a slice of apple pie or enjoyed a salted caramel treat has experienced the way salt can amplify sweetness. But, did you know it can also calm down bitter flavors? This can be great with some vegetables like Brussels sprouts that might have some bitterness. Salt is also a perfect seasoning to help crisp up the skin on a filet of fish or dry out meat for jerkys or salamis.
Nowadays home chefs have access to a wide variety of salts. There are even salt subscription services out there if you want to try a different salt every month. Some of the most common are the refined iodized table salt you probably remember from childhood and basic finely ground sea salts. When cooking at home, you can add some interest to your cuisine by trying an unrefined sea salt or coarsely mined salt, think pink Himalayan salts. These are still widely available at most big box stores. Or, you could really get creative and try a smoked salt, black Hawaiian salt or flavored salts with things like truffles. There are so many opportunities to add a new salt to your cooking.
As with any seasoning, you want to add salt with thoughtfulness. Salt to taste is a great phrase, but we need to take it to heart. Salt can quickly overpower a dish, so add only enough to enhance, not overwhelm. Your guests can always add more salt at the table if they are so inclined. Sometimes when we cook at home we forget to salt as we cook. Adding salt in during the cooking process is a great way to make sure it migrates throughout the dish, which can create a more robust flavor. Adding salt at the end can be effective as well if you are looking for that saltiness to hit the tongue right away. Experimenting with how much and when you add salt can help you add depth and interest to your cooking.