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Salt

I would love to get a rip roaring discussion about salt. Two specific points I'd like to see discussed:

1. Salting techniques before, during and after cooking
2a. Pros/Cons between average table salt, kosher salt, sea salt, rock salt salt grinders, etc.
2b. And is Celtic sea salt any better than French sea salt?

Personally, I like using kosher salt for cooking. Somehow it flavors food better. Also, can anyone tell me the French perspective on salt? It seems the food is always perfectly salted at any good french restaurant.

Of course, the chinese are good at this as well. My dad always said that if you needed to put salt on chinese food, you're in a pretty bad restaurant.

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  1. Doublejnyc, Thanks for an enticing new thread. I look forward to hearing what everyone's thoughts on salt are. Personally, I keep Sea Salt in a big shaker in the cupboard, but I keep a crystal sugar bowl full of Kosher Salt (refilled time to time from a gigantic red Kosher salt box that costs two bucks) for day-to-day cooking because it seems to stick to food better without being over salty.

    Haven't used an Iodized salt in ages... am I hurting myself?

    We'll be getting lots of lessons on the different kinds of salt and what is best for particular applications. Anticipating learning! Again, thanks for this thread!

    1. Awesome thread -- and something not often discussed. My No. 1 problem with restaurant food comes from under- (and occasionally over-) salting. Especially on fried food. Anyhow...

      1. Such an open canvas. Always salt during cooking, unless making food for people on restricted diets. In proteins, salt before they hit the heat. In starch, salt added at the table never penetrates. Especially on fried starches, the salt has to be added the minute the food comes out of the fat. Otherwise, you've just wasted all your food (and the calories in it). For anything starting with aromatics, salt as the onions hit the pan, then adjust slowly as other ingredients follow. Acid can be deceiving. Acidic things that you think are properly seasoned as you go often end up flat at the end. And in general, the wetter the food, the more easily salt can be added at the table.

      2. Salt after cooking is a matter of appropriate texture to go with the food. Kosher salt is mostly for the cooking process. Its grains are generally too big to use at the table, in my opinion. I use non-iodized salt at the table, but I've been known to use fine-grain sea salt there too, or fleur de sel when I want that flaky texture (on something where the salt sits on top without absorbing). On soft pretzels, nothing but rock pretzel salt will do.

      That being said, I think most exotic sea salts and fleur de sel variations are yuppie conspicuous-consumption fillips. Choose salt by texture, not by "subtle mineral essences." I suspect there are very few people who could tell the difference between non-iodized salts of any kind diluted in water or in mashed potatoes, for example.

      1. As someone who loves salt, I could talk ENDLESSLY about it. When I cook meats, which isn't very often, I generally salt right before cooking. I taste things during the cooking process and add salt and other seasonings accordingly. Generally I go light, at least in my eyes, on the salt when cooking, because I like things very salty and do not want to ruin the dish for anyone else. This being said, I salt most things after cooking as well.

        I agree with you on using Kosher salt for cooking. It does seem to impart better flavor. I like to use Kosher salt for my table salt as well.

        1 Reply
        1. re: marietinn

          yeah non-kosher or non-sea is just far too harsh. and I like things salty, but it's so easy to add more at the end.

          dmd-kc your comments are interesting, I've had a huge guilt avoidance of salt due to the HBP scare of the 80's and later a pot of soup I made that was ruined due to bad advice. I've lately re-embraced salt, and understand the texture issues, but I salt roasting vegetables away while they sit in a little sprinkled EVOO. wrong? tastes good.

          but on the topic read Kurlansky's book on salt - fascinating.

        2. 1. Meat gets salted in advance. Sometimes over two days (chicken, pork); overnight (beef); a few hours ahead of time (fish.) Of course, I don't always plan ahead or have time, or bother, but that is basically how it goes.

          Vegetables to be boiled get salty water. Veggies to be sauteed/roasted get salt when it goes in the pan.

          Taste while you cook, and salt if needed. That should avoid any need to salt after cooking, unless you are sprinkling a little fleur de sel.

          12 Replies
          1. re: jaykayen

            It's really a very bad idea to salt meats in advance of cooking. Salt draws liquid from the flesh and can result in a tougher cut that the original state. If you're thinking of brining (as with poultry), that's a different process that draws FLUID into the flesh, including salt along with the fluid. Then there is salt curing, as with pork, but again, the salt draws out the fluids in the flesh, thereby preserving it and keeping it from rotting.

            As a general rule of thumb, the longer you salt something ahead of time, the more the salt flavor "equalizes" and sinks into the background. Such is the case with most prepared and canned foods. People end up adding additional salt which pushes the food beyond any reasonable salt level.

            The best time to salt anything is as close to the time it will go into your mouth as possible. Most recipes call for little to no salt until the final tasting and "correcting' of seasonings. This is because the later salt comes to the food, the fuller the salt flavor. When cooking (searing or broiling) steaks, it is best to salt them just before cooking so fluids aren't drawn, or even after cooking when a good salt flavor level will require less salt and will therefore be more "heart healthy." For braising or stewing, salt lightly or not at all during cooking, then salt just prior to serving so the salt will really shine.

            As for the OP's original questions, there are a lot of prior discussions about salt you may (or may not) find through a site search. The long and short of it is that all salts are the same chemical ingredient, but the intensity of them differs. "Table salt" in the familiar round blue boxes (iodized or not) is the strongest of them all, and if you've been weaned from it for some time, it tastes quite disagreeable and chemical like when you taste it again. Kosher salt is milder in flavor, and both coarse and fine are the choice of most chefs. Sea salts and fleur de sel are considered "finishing salts" and are ridiculously expensive to cook with. They are also "lighter' in flavor than kosher salt, so the later you add them to your food, the more you will taste them. Then there are flavored and/or "impure" salts (my word choice) that are discolored by chemical properties of the areas where they are gathered such as pink or black salts, as well as flavored salts that have additional ingredients added to them. In all cases, personal preferences are a matter of how your taste buds respond to a particular salt and how well you like the result.

            1. re: Caroline1

              Caroline1, I'm interested to hear your opinions on salting during braising. I myself tend to follow your ideas, not through any deep theory, but just that tasting at the end tells me most accurately how much salt I need relative to the flavor that has developed. But I was seriously "yelled at" at a class I took at the CIA when I forgot to salt my braised meat until 1 minute after I put it in the oven, after browning on the stove (I kid you not). The instructor more or less said that it would "never be right" because it hadn't been salted before browning it on the stove. I've never quite "gotten" that theory myself.

              1. re: DGresh

                Based on my own experimentation, I've found that when braising or stewing, or making soup for that matter, when I layer the flavors and components *without* salt during the cooking process, I will get a more... hmmm.... what's the word? I guess you might say "flavor intensity" by omitting the salt until later than I do when I salt early on.

                Keep in mind that everyone's taste buds do not march to the same drummer. Some people find certain chilies to be mild while others find the same chili hot. Some find safflower oil flavorless and peanut oil to carry an unpleasant flavor while others find just the opposite. So it appears that everyone does not share the same cloned taste buds. But for me, I find "procrastinated salt" works best. Don't know if this makes much sense, but it does work for me.

                I will add that in braising, adding salt early on probably doesn't do much in the way of drawing liquid from the meat, but for me it does interfere with my decisions on whether that's "just the right amount" of thyme, or tomato paste, or whatever. I suspect your CIA instructor was relying more on tradition than anything else. Overall, tradition is a good thing, but there's nothing wrong with kicking the tires every now and then either. '-)

                1. re: Caroline1

                  I think sort of the opposite of that. I think the salt should be added earlier and allowed to cook into the food. Obviously, you don't want to put in so much that it ends up over salted in the end, but I find if I only add salt at the end, it doesn't have the time to 'marry' with the other flavours. I don't find that it hinders my abilty to decide on how much to add of other flavours. In fact, it makes it easier to decide what the dish really needs. If the salt is added late, you might be adding too much of other flavours because there is 'something missing', when what is missing is the salt.

                  1. re: Sooeygun

                    I'm with you. When cooking meat especially large cuts salting in advance is preferable to not salting until the end. Salting in advance makes the food taste better salting at the end makes the food tasty, well, salty.

                    Here is a good article about this subject from the NY Times.

                    "As Ms. Rodgers and Mr. Wolke explained, when salt encounters protein, the protein changes shape on a molecular level. In its new form, it can absorb more water than normal and softens. So a salted piece of meat can taste juicier and more tender than an unsalted one. If the meat is not too heavily salted, nor left to dry very long, what little drying results may also improve the flavor. The trick to keeping a presalted steak from turning gray is simply to pat the surface with paper towels just before you put it on the grill, to dry off any moisture."

                    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      When cooking food in layers such as braising, I tend to season each layer lightly. Otherwise you loose the depth of flavor.

                      1. re: kchurchill5

                        I do the same thing but I do try and pre-salt the meat.

                  2. re: Caroline1

                    Caroline 1, your comments are terrific and I always enjoy reading you. Alas, I have to disagree with you about when to salt. If you salt foods early in the cooking process, the salt is better distributed throughout the food and it has more time to work on the food and meld with the other ingredients. The Food Network chefs, who have addressed the question at all, seem to think that you use less salt because it packs more punch when well integrated into the food. I think I have read that in some cookbooks, too, although I could not tell you which ones.

                    Admittedly, there are times when salting meat or vegetables too early can draw moisure out of the meat, but this is only if it is going to be a long time before you cook the meat or vegetables.

                    Anyway, I like to salt early and then add a bit more, if necessary, as I continue to taste the food as I cook it.

                    1. re: gfr1111

                      I think that all good cooks work out a method that they feel works best for them. Is it Andrew Zimmern who says, "If it looks good, eat it?" Works for me. '-)

                2. re: Caroline1

                  maybe salt draws out water. maybe. I've never noticed my meat to be sitting in more liquid after a night of salting versus not. But water content really isn't the key to having tasty, tender meat. Dry-aged beef?

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Meats should always be salted before cooking and not after.

                    And food should be sasoned as you cook it, not right before it hits your mouth.

                    This is day one lesson in any culinary school.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      This old chestnut, to refrain from salting meat at the early stages of cooking, should be ignored. Proof that a little knowledge is a dangerous (or, at least, unappetizing) thing.

                      It is true that too much salt will dry out your meat, but the amount of salt that would be needed to have a truly adverse effect on your cooking would probably ruin the taste of the food in any event. Nobody should use that much salt.

                      For those who believe their results are better by salting at or towards the end of the cooking, there is no reason to stop (except that most everybody will disagree) - we are all entitled to our own tastes.

                      The one place where I would heed Caroline's advice is when pan-frying fish. I do find that salt at the begining definitely diminishes the quality of the end product. In this case, I always salt at the end.

                  2. I use kosher salt when cooking and regular Mortan's salt when baking. I've never really used any of the fancy finishing salts but I am very intrigued by them. I just have a hard time paying $8-$12 for a pound of salt.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jpc8015

                      I'm with you jpc, I think I'd be blowing smoke up my own #$# if I thought my palate could really decisively make the distinction beyond Kosher and sea salt (I can distinguish between those and table mind you - that iodine in table is kinda harsh) I'm tempted to largely dump iodized except for the thyroid thing.

                      1. re: hill food

                        You might do some research into the thyroid thing, assuming there are no medical issues involved for you. My understanding is that while iodized salt was extremely important for people in the past, because if you lived away from the sea, you were unlikely to be getting enough iodine, but patterns of food distribution (plus daily vitamins and the use of iodized salt in many processed foods, I assume) have changed enough that it really isn't necessary to eat iodized salt to get your requirements.

                        1. re: tariqata

                          I have to disagree -- I think any woman who may become pregnant should buy idiodized salt. I didn't, and became pregnant, and because I don't use a lot of salt, it took me months (while pregnant) to use up the non-iodized salt. My daughter had a birth defect -- either her thyroid gland doesn't work, or it isn't there. There's a time in fetal development when presence or absence of iodine will trigger the growth of a working thyroid gland. Because we are fortunate enough to live in a state with lots of neonatal testing, this was discovered when she was 6 days old. It's an easy fix -- she'll take synthetic thyroid hormone all her life. If it hadn't been discovered early, her central nervous system would not have developed properly and she would be severely retarded! Thank goodness, she's fine and has developed normally. But who knew?!

                          So for women of childbirth age, it's important to get iodine in your diet, and salt is the easiest way to do it.

                          By the way, although this is a relatively rare disorder in in the US, it's more prevalent in landlocked countries like Hungary, and the World Health Organization has created campaigns to educate women about the need for iodine in the diet. (Sort of like the folic acid/spina bifida campaigns.)