Friday, September 6, 2019

"Salt is salt"

I'm pretty limited as a cook. There are a few things I do well but since I'm almost always cooking for myself I like to keep things easy and quick. For some years now I've been buying my spices online, first from Penzey's and then, after learning some of the backstory, from The Spice House. Their offerings are similar and their family origins are too. I recently acquired on spice: advice, wisdom, and history with a grain of saltiness by Caitlin Penzey Moog. As a member of that family she was immersed in the subject from a very early age. The book is very informative. I've learned a lot. I won't use most of that knowledge but then that's true of much I know. Something I did learn and do use from the first chapter: 
My grandfather had a mantra: "salt is salt." What he meant was that salt can be broken down into many groupings, but such distinctions hardly matter. The broad categories are rock salt, kosher salt, and the color salts: gray sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Hawaiian red salt, etc. These are different, but when it comes to salting your food, well, they're all just salt. It's an adage that's served me well when it comes to the seduction of the small batch, the rare, the expensive. Luckily with salt, it doesn't matter if you buy the processed stuff off the grocery store shelf or are able to procure a pinch of brown salt from Japan, where only 600 pounds are mined every year. The expensive salts will not make your food taste any better than the cheap salts. Salt is salt.

My favorite salt is among the cheapest: kosher salt. Growing up, my family used little else. Though it is traditionally used for preparing kosher foods, the salt itself is not necessarily kosher. Rather, nearly all salt is kosher and may be religiously certified as such (check the box), but not all "kosher salt," of the distinctive size and shape, has been certified. It's not the color or origin or religious affiliation that makes salt culinarily different, but the surface area.

The differences can be understood through the example of ice, snow, and rain. A grain of rock salt is like a chunk of ice: it falls on a surface and dissolves very slowly. Kosher salt, on the other hand, is like a snowflake: it lands on the surface and immediately dissipates, spreading out to cover more ground. Table salt is like smaller pieces of ice, or a hard rain. It falls in tiny bits, bouncing around the food and into cracks and crevices like rain in a gutter. That's why kosher salt is preferred for salting foods at the table: it covers more surface and melts more evenly. My dad, a chef, also likes it for the thick texture, which makes it easy to pinch and disperse. ....
I've been buying kosher salt since I read this.

on spice: advice, wisdom, and history with a grain of saltiness

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