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Salt

doublejnyc Jan 21, 2009 08:43 PM

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.

  1. Karl S Jan 23, 2009 09:59 AM

    The age-old myth that salting flesh items before cooking impairs their moistness has been pretty conclusively busted, with variations for respective volumes of salt and flesh of course. So you will see a *ton* of advice based on that myth. Ignore it unless your own tastebuds agree with it empirically.

    Of the 2 US big-name salts, Diamond rocks over Morton (and I grew up with Morton's). The table salt is a finer crystal (good enough for popcorn), the kosher is a coarser crystal. In fact, if you are using an American cookbook and it calls for kosher salt, assume it means Diamond unless it specifies otherwise (check the section on general stuff, it's often lurking in there, along with dip and sweep vs spooning to measure flour et cet,). The ratios of equivalents of Diamond kosher to table salt vs Morton's kosher to table salt are 2:1 and 3:2, respectively.

    I don;t use iodized salt. And, if you want to keep your salt from clumping in humid months, just keep it in a large Glad ziplock freezer bag (not Hefty - the mechanism doesn't seal out the air as well).

    I reserve fancy salts (fleur de sel and Maldon, eg) for textural garnish - like on eggs or steak or warm garden tomatoes. Don't need much of it - lasts a long time. So don't spend lots on it.

    And salt your salad greens before you dress them (a good pinch per serving is a good rule of thumb). That's where salad gets its name from, after all. An unsalted salad is often unbalanced in flavors.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Karl S
      C. Hamster Jan 23, 2009 10:48 AM

      I agree with everything you said with one tiny exception.

      And WORD to salting sald greens before you dress them.

      exception ;I use regular table salt for baking.

      1. re: Karl S
        paulj Jan 23, 2009 11:07 AM

        Iodine has been added to deal with a medical issue. Clumping of salt is a different issue, addressed with anti-caking additives.

        Salt does draw moisture out of vegetables like cucumber, zucchini, cabbage, and eggplant. It is often added specifically for that purpose. After sitting they are squeezed and drained. In the case of zucchini and eggplant this is supposed to remove bitter juices that are sometimes present. With cucumber and cabbage, this salting reduces dilution of the dressing (since the dressing also tends to draw moisture out).

        1. re: paulj
          Karl S Jan 23, 2009 11:44 AM

          I know that iodine and clumping are separate issues - I should have made those sentences separate paragraphs to make that clearer. I don't like the taste of iodized salt when I have to use it in quantity, as I do from time to time.

          And my comments about salt and moisture were specifically directed to flesh, not vegetables, and the effects of salt on flesh are more complex.

          1. re: Karl S
            Mawrter Jan 23, 2009 03:34 PM

            So interesting - I knew there was a lot of controversy on the when-to-salt-meat business, have never felt never felt like I was getting to the bottom if the matter. It never occurred to me to notice that it's different with veggies, but yeah, there you go. Do you know if that big McGee book has the current data? Maybe the new edition? Would be interesting to check out.

            FTR, I salt meat just before cooking. If I use a marinade, I use salt if it's to be marinated briefly and not if it's to be marinated for a long time. And for salad, I don't salt the greens, I salt the vinaigrette & toss to coat.

            1. re: Mawrter
              Karl S Jan 23, 2009 03:48 PM

              The amount of moisture lost by salting meat before cooking is pretty negligible, though meat should be patted dry very well before cooking if you want to enhance browning.

              In fact, depending on the size of the piece of meat, salting it well before cooking (a dry brine/rub) can enhance its ability to retain moisture. And, if done even longer, of course, the meat will lose moisture *but* will intensify in flavor and get a more defined texture - this can be done even without salt, of course, through "dry aging" of certain tender cuts of red meats.

              Meat is more complex than most vegetables in terms of cell structures and their contents, so its reaction to salting is more complex.

              1. re: Karl S
                C. Hamster Jan 27, 2009 10:54 AM

                Yes, yes and yes.

                Regarding salting meat, Tom Colicchio has a nice discussion of this in his book., How to Think Like a Chef. I recall Thomas Keller or Ruhlman discussing it also but wil have to look it up.

                Regarding dry brine. Exhibit A = Zuni Chicken

      2. Katie Nell Jan 23, 2009 07:28 AM

        I find this discussion really interesting! With the exception of some of the smoked and flavored salts that I find intriguing, I won't spend major bucks on salt. I am interested in what Jamie Oliver uses though- I don't know if it's the magic of the camera, but it just seems to melt into the food on contact and look delicious!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Katie Nell
          greedygirl Jan 23, 2009 09:34 AM

          It's probably Maldon Sea Salt - it's what most cheffy types use over here.

        2. c
          Clarkafella Jan 23, 2009 07:00 AM

          Hope that I am not repeating what someone else has already said, but I've noticed that when cooking ground beef, if you add salt all of the liquid seems to get drawn back in to the meat. Not sure why, and it doesn't seem to make it any juicier, but the liquid does disappear and the only place for it to go is back into the beef, so go figure...

          4 Replies
          1. re: Clarkafella
            Caroline1 Jan 23, 2009 07:02 AM

            Unless, of course, it evaporates and just leaves a crust in the bottom of the pan? '-)

            1. re: Caroline1
              c
              Clarkafella Jan 23, 2009 02:19 PM

              Could be- does the salt cause that to happen? I figured that the meat just sucked it all back in!

              1. re: Clarkafella
                Caroline1 Jan 23, 2009 02:29 PM

                Salt doesn't cause evaporation nearly as fast as heat does! The salt WILL help draw juices from anything animal or vegetable. It's what they use to pull liquid from pork in a salt cure method, it's what I use to draw liquid from eggplant, for example, when I'm making moussaka. But without any meat or salt in the frying pan, put a little liquid in the bottom of the pan -- water will work just fine -- and then turn the burner on to the level you use to cook a hamburger patty and see how long the water stays in the pan. A lot less time than it would take to cook a hamburger patty!

            2. re: Clarkafella
              r
              razkolnikov Jan 23, 2009 05:57 PM

              Salt initially draws out the juices, but then it gets inside the meat, and now the salty inside soaks up the liquid outside. It's why brining a chicken in a salty solution makes it juicier than brining in non-salted liquid.

            3. doublejnyc Jan 22, 2009 09:44 PM

              Boy, I really got what I asked for. Thank you guys and gals for such nuanced answers and comments. This thing called the "internets" still blows my mind.

              1. greedygirl Jan 22, 2009 12:48 PM

                We don't have kosher salt in the UK. I tend to use fine sea salt as my all-purpose cooking salt - it's pretty cheap here. For using at the table I have Maldon flakes or fleur de sel from France.

                1. s
                  soupkitten Jan 22, 2009 11:57 AM

                  i use sea salt. a small amt of salt should be added at the beginning of cooking most vegetables, in braises, soups, etc. because the veg will absorb the flavor and it will develop the flavors of the broth; then the salt is adjusted at the end. prefer the clean taste. i use the same workhorse sea salt i use at work at home & don't go in for the uber boutique salts except for very special preparations. i do like to sample these salts on occasion and note the differences in flavor and delivery of salt-flavor.

                  don't prefer kosher salt because of its fluffiness. sometimes it's moderately fluffy and sometimes it's really fluffy. it creates measuring, & under/over salting problems. using kosher salt as a finisher can mean folks end up ingesting more salt than they'd like to.

                  iodized salt is horrible and is not worth wasting time talking about.

                  because i am superstitious, i believe that a house running entirely out of salt is a precursor of disaster. i keep a box of salt somewhere in the house (not kitchen area) to avoid catastrophes.

                  1. kchurchill5 Jan 22, 2009 11:54 AM

                    Simply, regular Mortons for baking. Kosher for most every day cooking. Sometimes for a finishing salt I like a grey salt, but if I don't have that I always have kosher. I have tried other speciality salts and not found that big of a difference to offset the cost. Kosher to me works great. Also sea salt is ok but still prefer kosher. Maybe just set in my ways. It is a great discussion for those who really enjoy the different tastes and applications of the various salts.

                    And I do salt some food as they cook, vegetables, pastas and meats, fries, potatoes, roasted veggies at times need a little extra after cooking. Depends. There is no set rule. Everyone's recipe is different and unique.

                    1. buttertart Jan 22, 2009 09:49 AM

                      Two reflections on salt in breadbaking (I use Greek sea salt, Perla brand, for cooking and baking, because I like the container it comes in - top has shaker, a little spout, and a slot for faster dispensing of larger amounts - as well as the taste):
                      1. Add salt only after a 20-minute resting period after mixing and before kneading - I have no idea why this makes better-tasting bread but it definitely does
                      2. Raw bread dough should taste about as salty as blood (go on, take a little lick) to ensure best flavor when finished.
                      My standard recipe is the crusty French with "old dough" from Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb, the best basic crusty bread recipe I've found.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: buttertart
                        Father Kitchen Jan 22, 2009 11:45 AM

                        I've used fossil "sea salt" mined someplace in Idaho or Utah and sold in a number of Amish markets. It is unprocessed and has a slightly pink-beige color. But on a trip to Guam a couple of years ago, I got some sea salt made by boiling water collected beyond the reefs at the south of the island. When I got back to D.C., I decided to grind some because it was a bit coarse for bread baking. To my surprise it formed a paste. So I spread it out on a cookie sheet in a warm oven, dried it further, and then ground it in a food processor. I like it, but I don't have any special fondness for it over other similar salts. However, I don't really like salts that have an additive in them so that when it rain they pour. It adds a slightly metallic undertaste I find obtrusive.

                      2. cassoulady Jan 22, 2009 08:45 AM

                        i use baleine salt, i have fine and course, i also use maldon salt especially for meats ( it is a recent discovery and i love it), fleur de sel to finish things. before i cook, i pour some baleine and maldon in two different ramekins and use my fingers. this is terribly wasteful i know, because I end up tossing whats leftover and washing the ramekins. I will also add that I grew up in a no salt house, I remember not even being able to find any at my parents place once. It has taken a long time to learn how to salt things.

                        1. m
                          MrsCris Jan 22, 2009 07:47 AM

                          Does anyone have any comments about grey salt? There's a chef on the FN who uses it all the time, I noticed, and he's pretty specific about it (I think it's Tyler Florence, but can't recall for sure). I recently saw some in my grocery store but didn't want to shell out the dough for something untried.
                          I too use a fine grain sea salt on the table, or sometimes a flaky salt or fleur de sel on something where I want that bit of crunch and hit of flavour (asparagus comes to mind).

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MrsCris
                            Mawrter Jan 22, 2009 07:42 PM

                            I really love sel gris. I use it for when the salt matters, where it will sit on top of the food and be enjoyed distinctly. But actually, I do that with fleur de sel, too. I got really good grey salt for a great price a while back, wish I could remember where.

                            Per cassoulady (below) my parents were salt-free, too, and it took me a long time to get it, too. And I love Baleine. Really, I love all the different salts mentioned - for different things.

                          2. Scargod Jan 22, 2009 07:34 AM

                            Was just researching salt in the context of baking. Some might find this information regarding baking and other comments about salt, by Harold McGee, interesting.
                            Salt helps hold the flour gluten (proteins) network together and improves volume. Think of a stronger flour balloon. Using sea salt, with its calcium and magnesium impurities, counteracts soft water that can detract from gluten strength. In sourdough, salt helps limit the digestion of proteins.
                            Salt suppresses the taste of bitterness.
                            Like some have said, if salt can be dissolved (wetted), then it will penetrate food. Its molecular structure allows for atom level penetration. Sufficient levels of salt discourage bad bacteria from growing and encourage flavor-producing ones to grow.
                            Larger sea salt crystals may be minimally processed so they can contain more minerals, while the wet flakes (fleur de sel, for example), which come from the top crust, may be purer in mineral content but contain algae and other materials, which add flavor.
                            All salt can be compacted and crushed and made into different shapes, regardless of mineral content or origin. Sea salts, according to HM, are best used at the table, as a condiment, and that flavors would be lost in cooking; overwhelmed by the food. Flakes can dissolve four or five times faster than regular granulated salt and finely ground salt can dissolve twenty times faster.
                            If you have chlorinated water and use iodized salt, you may notice a "seaweed-like" odor from the reaction of the two chemical compounds.

                            I would like to know more about kosher salt versus regular Morton's salt, which, I assume, is still mined from the ground, in East Texas and other places. It sounds like (according to some), that kosher is milder salt and in some way has less sodium chloride by volume or weight. Isn't “kosher salt”, by definition, relatively pure sodium chloride, without iodine? Isn’t it one reason it is popular for cooking? How then, can it be milder or diluted? If used, anti-caking additives account for only 2%, by weight. At this level, they can affect flavor.
                            I can see how sea salt's strength or raw, strong taste, is diluted, buffered or affected by all the other minerals and flavors in it.
                            HM also says that you acquire a preference for a certain level of salt in your diet, over time. This takes between two to four months to change. Thus, I can see why this is a VERY SUBJECTIVE issue and why some see certain salts as harsh or strong. When beyond about sixty years, you are also less sensitive to salt.

                            About flavor of sea salts: I can taste a difference. SO and I were doing a taste test of five salts, just two weeks ago. I can see how these subtle flavors get lost in cooking. I was just in Jamaica where I tasted a lot of sea water and it is very flavorful and very “fishy” to me!

                            As far as the coolness or trendiness of colored salts, I think I will pass as they seem to be mostly decorative; and pink coral in your salt? The new flavored salts to me are a silly gimmick, too, and way too expensive!
                            EDIT: I just found this (and now, I'm totally lost): Pure Ocean (brand) sea salt. Completely unrefined, the natural minerals add subtle nuances of flavor that make this sea salt superior. Pure Ocean sea salts are Kosher Certified by the Orthodox Union.

                            23 Replies
                            1. re: Scargod
                              Sooeygun Jan 22, 2009 07:50 AM

                              Salt in yeast doughs helps to control the growth of yeast. So if you skip the salt in a yeast dough recipe, your dough can over proof.

                              1. re: Scargod
                                Caroline1 Jan 22, 2009 07:50 AM

                                Whenever I get a new housekeeper (oh, for the old days when they stayed with you for 30 years!), they ALWAYS ask why I have so many different kinds of salt. I answer by putting a tiny bit in the palm of their hand and having them taste it. We start with fleur de sel, then sea salt, then kosher salt, and finally the "big bruiser," Morton's salt from the darkest reaches of the cupboard. I use it only on rare occasion when I want to reform something made out of plastic, or for custom fitting plastic sunglass by burying the frame or ear piece for a minute before bending to fit. But don't get the salt too hot or you'll melt the plastic! In tasting, always go from mild to strong as the other way around numbs the taste buds too much.

                                1. re: Caroline1
                                  Scargod Jan 22, 2009 08:16 AM

                                  So.... old, wise one, what is mild to strong, excluding Morton's? Which do you use on the table and which do you cook with? Where's your list? I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours!

                                  BTW, salt, rice or beans are useful for measuring the volume of unknown spaces and containers where you can't use a liquid.

                                  1. re: Scargod
                                    ideabaker Jan 22, 2009 09:26 AM

                                    Um, she isn't "old", she is "seasoned" :-). But you got the wise part right ;-).

                                    1. re: ideabaker
                                      Caroline1 Jan 22, 2009 10:55 AM

                                      Okay, you two. You're both making me laugh! And thank you for the kind and gentle words, ideabaker! ;-)

                                      Escargot, you DON"T want to put salt on your tail! Did I ever tell you I used to raise my own escargot, fresh from my garden? Until I calculated how much the critters were costing me in edible plants! $40.00 a pound was too much!

                                      The strongest and most taste bud wilting salt is the stuff in the round boxes commonly referred to as "table salt." Not on MY table! In today's world, it's most often a mined salt. But there was a time about a half century ago when much of it was gathered in salt beds in San Diego bay, the sun evaporated the water, and the salt was scooped into a huge salt mountain that was a landmark that could be seen for miles around. Today most "table salt" is mined.

                                      There are HUGE underground salt "mines" in southern New Mexico (as I'm sure you know) that adjoin Carlsebad Caverns. The government has dug them out in HUGE storage areas for long term storage of nuclear waste. I think the whole idea is stupid, since the nuclear waste is put into metal drums, then stored. And metal is corroded by salt. And the half life of some nuclear waste runs into the millions, if not billions, of years. But hey, Dixie Lee Ray, former secretary of the AEC or whatever, god rest her soul, promised that she PERSONALLY guaranteed the safety of storing nuclear waste that way. She should have lived so long....

                                      But I digress... '-)

                                      Rock salt is mined all over the world. If you go to sushi bars or Japanese restaurants that serve you food that is cooking on pink rock salt as it is placed before you, that rock salt usually comes from Tibet. The "saltiness' of rock salt will vary from mine to mine. And, of course, ALL rock salt used to be sea salt if you go back in time far enough.

                                      To go back to my digression, the salt mines of New Mexico aren't that far from the Permian Sea, a vast underground "ocean" that is a remnant of the Permian Era, and is now sealed over by earth. One good earthquake can shake that puppy right into those salt mines and all that stored nuclear waste and voila! Radioactive soup. Okay, I'll un-digress. But first, some very creative guy is pumping a bunch of Permian Sea water to the surface where he contains in in huge beds to raise SHRIMP! Imagine! Shrimp raised in pristine water that is touched by air for the first time in millions of years. They come at a price. You can find them on the web under Permian Sea shrimp.

                                      So basically, salt is salt, and all salt used to be sea water, even if that may have been millions or billions of years ago. What makes different salts taste saltier or less salty is where they're from and how moist they are. Some sea salts have a very high moisture content and require special mills that are corrosion resistant if you want to grind your own.

                                      I personally use plain old every day kosher salt for cooking, and a variety of sea salts for finishing. For the sheer fun of it, I really like Maldon sea salt from England. It has a unique shape. It's in little pyramids, some larger than others. Sort of like big quadrafoil snowflakes! It doesn't taste particularly Egyptian or Mexican, or like any other pyramid civilization, but they're fun.

                                      Because there is such a variance in how different people perceive the flavors of the same thing, I just advise friends to experiment and figure out what kind of salt rings their chimes. But NO SALT on live snails! '-)

                                      1. re: Caroline1
                                        c
                                        crowbar Jan 23, 2009 04:04 PM

                                        Funny you mention NO SALT on live snails. Here in the Caribbean, there is a plague - of sorts - of Giant African snails. No natural predators to scarf them down... and as you've noted they gobble up greenery. So, the cheap and easy way to get rid of them is to dump a handful of salt over them as they snail their way thru the garden. It turns them into globs of goo.... Personally, I think it's gruesome... but, then, I don't have a garden to guard!

                                2. re: Scargod
                                  paulj Jan 22, 2009 08:57 AM

                                  The big difference between 'table salt' and kosher is the size (and shape) of the grains, and hence its density. Kosher salt is less dense, especially the brands that have flat, flake like grains. It's less dense because the grains don't pack together as close.

                                  If you dissolve equal amounts (by weight) in water, any difference in taste would be the result of minor elements, such as iodine (which may or may not be present in table salt), and anti caking agents (I believe Morton kosher still has them).

                                  If you taste different salts by touching your tongue to a patch in the palm of your hand, you may also detect differences caused by the shape and size of the grains. Finer grains will dissolve on your tongue faster.

                                  I've never noticed a difference in salts that I could attribute to trace minerals. Maybe there are differences, but I rarely use salt in a large enough quantity to detect them. The only significant differences, to me, are due to grain size.

                                  I keep two jars of salt by the stove, one of fine grain, and one kosher. I usually add kosher to a dish by the pinch. On the table I have a salt shaker with fine grain, a small container of coarse sea salt (from bulk bin at store), and another of colored salt (Hawaiian red).

                                  1. re: Scargod
                                    alanbarnes Jan 22, 2009 09:22 AM

                                    Salt is salt is salt. Or, more accurately, NaCl is NaCl is NaCl.

                                    AFAIK any salt can be certified as kosher. "Kosher" salt is the traditional texture used for kashering meat - that is, drawing the blood out so that it complies with Talmudic dietary laws. And pure "kosher" salt versus pure table salt versus pure pickling salt is strictly a matter of crystal size. Put kosher salt in a blender for a while and you have table salt. Run the blender a while longer and you have pickling salt. Kosher salt tastes the least "salty" of the three because (1) there's more air between the crystals, and thus less salt in a given volume, and (2) there's less surface area, so it dissolves on your tongue over a longer period of time, thus producing less of a salty "hit" up front. Once you've dissolved a given weight of pure salt in water, it doesn't matter what the crystal size was to start with.

                                    But not all salt is pure, and that's where things get interesting. The impurities add complexity to the flavor of the salt. Some sea salts are very nearly pure NaCl, with only minimal amounts of things like the magnesium and calcium that you note. Other salts are so impure that they take on noticeable colors. I happen to enjoy Hawai'ian 'alaea salt, which contains copious amounts of - not to put too fine a point on it - red dirt that runs off the sides of the volcanoes. Decorative, yes, but it also has a distinct flavor. Will the colored-salt trend pass with time? Who knows, but I've been working on a pound of the stuff for about four years, so the overall cost isn't going to break the bank.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes
                                      paulj Jan 22, 2009 09:34 AM

                                      I bought a couple of little bags of colored Hawaian salt from Traders several years ago (both the red and black), and have yet to run out of them. Traders prices were reasonable, but they don't carry these any more. But I've seen the red at Asian groceries for equally good prices.

                                      I use the colored ones on salads where the contrast in color is nice.

                                      Speaking of large grain salt, I was given a 7lb block of pink Pakistan salt for Christmas. So far I've only used it as a 'serving' plate for sliced raw veggies. Wet things like cucumber exude a lot of water, and pick up a salty taste right away. Zuchini isn't quite as fast. I haven't tried chilling or heating it yet.

                                      I noticed at a restaurant store that you can buy smaller chunks of this salt, and shaver to go with them. That may be the latest fad in a long hsitory of trendy 'salt cellars'.
                                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_cellar

                                      1. re: paulj
                                        ideabaker Jan 22, 2009 09:44 AM

                                        Very interesting, Paulj... do the red and black salts taste more, less, the same level of salty as other salts, only with a difference in colour? I quite like the idea of salt as a garnish rather than just as a flavouring...

                                        1. re: ideabaker
                                          paulj Jan 22, 2009 10:55 AM

                                          Lay slices of cucumber on a plate. Shake a salt shaker over one. Rain a pinch of kosher over another. Decorate one with red or black grains. Weight wise, how much salt was added to each? I don't have any idea. Is one saltier than the other? I couldn't tell you which, just from the description.

                                          Another variable - was the salt freshly applied, or did it have time to sit and dissolve? If I taste right after application, to some degree I will tasting the coarser grains on their own, separate from the cucumber. Later I will be tasting mostly salty cucumber juices. That difference is even more obvious when I use the salt block as serving platter.

                                          It has often been claimed that a light application of a coarse salt at the table or right before serving is healthier for you, giving a salt taste without ingesting as much sodium. I couldn't say for sure that is the case.

                                          1. re: paulj
                                            ideabaker Jan 22, 2009 11:39 AM

                                            For specialty salts, Paulj, I would definitely do the light application at the table. Easier to keep away from over-saltiness, if even just because it can be eaten faster than the salt has time to penetrate the foods... will be looking for your suggested salts, just for the fun of them.

                                      2. re: alanbarnes
                                        Scargod Jan 22, 2009 10:11 AM

                                        Just to be argumentative (versus saying "not to be argumentative", but doing it anyway), how can a large crystal of coarse salt, which I think you are saying "kosher" salt is typically considered to be, be less "saltier" than any other?
                                        I agree that volume does not denote density or strength. It seems kosher salt is comprised of a compression of smaller crystals, or cubes of salt, or a natural fusion and sizing of smaller crystals, creating a coarser/flakier texture. I would think that this would cause a lot of surface area and a quick dissolving of the individual lumps, thus that quick, strong salty "hit".
                                        I guess I'm going to have to weigh them out and dissolve in water to be able to accurately compare taste...
                                        I still suspect that I would use kosher for cooking only, like I do now with the coarse Baliene, so it would be a moot point.

                                        1. re: Scargod
                                          alanbarnes Jan 22, 2009 11:04 AM

                                          A tablespoon of kosher salt is only less "salty" than a tablespoon of pickling salt because there's less salt there. Think about it on a larger scale - a barrel full of rocks will have less "stuff" in it, and therefore weigh less, than a barrel full of sand made by erosion of the same type of rock.

                                          As far as dissolution rates go, a crystal of kosher salt isn't an amalgamation of smaller crystals. It's an individual three-dimensional matrix of NaCl molecules. That's the definition of a crystal. And salt crystals dissolve molecule by molecule from the outside in. For an extreme example of this, put equal weights of rock salt and pickling salt in equal amounts of equal-temperature water. The pickling salt will dissolve far, far quicker (which is why it's good for making pickles, which often require dissolving salt in unheated water).

                                          Personally, I use non-iodized table salt for things like pasta water; it costs less and pours easier. Bread gets sea salt, most other cooking gets kosher salt (Morton's for me - I like the coarser texture), and things like fleur de sel and red salt are reserved for finishing.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes
                                            Scargod Jan 22, 2009 12:23 PM

                                            I understand the concept, really. I went here, http://www.saltinstitute.org/kosher.html
                                            and thought that the "more air between the crystals" comment implied that the structure was porous, or, if made by compressing crystals, there were gaps or porosity in the structure. I was thinking of a salt crystal as being made up of many crystals, which did not necessarily have to be bound tightly together; like compressing slightly fleur de sel.
                                            I think I once bought kosher salt way back when I tried pickling. I can't remember it. I know nothing, but I am about to buy some, to see for myself.

                                            I was reminded of my affinity for salt when, as a young child, I found a postcard from Salt Lake City, which had a small cloth bag of salt attached. I sucked on the bag on several occasions. My brother went to the salt mines in Grand Saline, Texas and brought home a huge chunk of salt. We chipped away at it and sucked and licked on it, too.

                                            1. re: Scargod
                                              alanbarnes Jan 22, 2009 02:45 PM

                                              My ranching relatives used to put out blocks of salt for the cattle to lick. Deer would also show up and enjoy the salty goodness. Now it sounds like it might attract New Englanders, too!

                                              1. re: alanbarnes
                                                Mawrter Jan 22, 2009 07:36 PM

                                                If this picture takes, it's of a big Charolais enjoying her salt.

                                                 
                                                1. re: Mawrter
                                                  Scargod Jan 23, 2009 06:41 AM

                                                  This goes to show you that meat should be pre-salted before cooking!

                                                2. re: alanbarnes
                                                  Passadumkeg Jan 23, 2009 04:16 PM

                                                  Alan, Scargod is a "salty" Texan and a gentleman, not a bland easterner..

                                                  Salt licks are also good deer bait, heh, heh, heh.

                                          2. re: alanbarnes
                                            Will Owen Jan 22, 2009 05:36 PM

                                            There's also Kosher salt and Kosher salt. My understanding is that it can come only from rock salt, and most Kosher salt (such as Morton's) is simply ground rock salt. Diamond Crystals, however, is an evaporated salt like sea salt, but made from a rock-salt brine. Could be wrong about this; all I know is that I go through a box every two months, roughly, and use most of it to PRE-SALT MY MEAT, thank you very much...

                                          3. re: Scargod
                                            Zeldog Jan 27, 2009 08:32 PM

                                            I'm not jewish, but my understanding is kosher in reference to salt means it's ok to use it make meat kosher by cleaning with salt, or maybe it just means the type of salt commonly used to make meat kosher. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that means it's ok as long as there's nothing dairy or non-kosher added to it, and it doesn't matter if it comes from a mine or the sea. Morton Kosher salt has "prussiate of soda" (whatever that is) as an anti-caking agent, so it seems Kosher does not mean Pure. And Morton table salt also has the (U) symbol indicating it is kosher, and it contains calcium silicate. So it seems "Kosher" salt and "Kosher salt" are not necessarily the same things. Just about all salt is kosher, but "kosher salt" merely describes a general shape and size of the salt grain. Grind some kosher salt in a blender and you end up with pickling salt that is still kosher.

                                            1. re: Zeldog
                                              Scargod Jan 28, 2009 03:43 AM

                                              I would refer you to this answer provided by Yahoo (for what it's worth). http://ask.yahoo.com/20030310.html
                                              It says salt labeled "Kosher" is not Kosher. I've found many Kosher salts and they are of varying particle sizes and densities. I would use it in cooking more for its relative purity.
                                              However, as I noted previously, there is Pure Ocean brand of sea salt that is certified "Kosher"; so go figure. I think you are correct, that there is a distinction.

                                              The Salt Institute says: The density of granulated evaporated salt varies depending on crystal size, structure, gradation, and degree of compaction. They list densities of 625-1315 g/L. The coarse products are generally of lower density.
                                              I'm assuming that they mean a larger granule when they say coarser. I have some Delallo sea salt granules that are very irregular, but very geometric in shape, yet small. The Roland coarse is the whitest (and largest) and looks the most like rough rocks. Baleine's is as large but clearer.

                                              1. re: Scargod
                                                Karl S Jan 28, 2009 04:31 AM

                                                Salt is a mineral, a rock - not from a living thing - so it does not require kosher certification.

                                          4. t
                                            tariqata Jan 22, 2009 04:42 AM

                                            I generally use sea salt (nothing fancy) for most of my cooking. I use salted water for pasta, but for everything else, I salt at the end of the cooking process. This is probably the wrong way to do it, judging from the prior posts, but I find that salt is really only necessary to balance flavours a bit, most of the time, and I find that if the salt is really noticeable, it's too salty.

                                            When I'm baking, I try to look for specifications on the type of salt being used in the recipe if it's there. In my mind, sea salt is associated with savoury foods (I know this is silly, sodium chloride is sodium chloride), and I typically use it for bread but not for things like cookies. (I don't like cooking with table salt, but I don't notice that my cookies taste of chemicals...) Does anyone routinely bake with salts other than table salt? Does it make a difference?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: tariqata
                                              d
                                              dkenworthy Jan 22, 2009 06:10 AM

                                              I only buy Diamond Kosher salt, and use it for all purposes, including baking. I have never had a problem, although Cook's Illustrated goes to great pains to say you need to increase the volume of salt used if you substitute Kosher salt for table salt, I don't really bother. I think this is because it has been more than 20 years since I have cooked with table salt so it isn't really "normal" for me. In savory cooking I always salt to taste rather than to measure. I do measure when baking, but since I also use salted butter exclusively, I don't increase the measure because I figure the butter will make it about equal. No one complains about my cooking being too salty, and only my brother (who salts fast food before eating) routinely adds salt at my table. He got addicted back in the 70's when they made athletes avoid water and take salt pills (believe it or not!).

                                              1. re: tariqata
                                                Scargod Jan 22, 2009 07:41 AM

                                                I use (Diamond Crystal), fine salt in all my baking. If I have the opportunity to dissolve it as I am combining ingredients, I do so.

                                              2. f
                                                filth Jan 22, 2009 02:39 AM

                                                I don't salt my food when cooking.

                                                What I like to do is season "en bouche."

                                                Toss a pinch of salt in your mouth first (important so it hits your taste buds) then take a forkfull of chow.

                                                Chew.

                                                Delicious.

                                                1. j
                                                  jpc8015 Jan 21, 2009 10:50 PM

                                                  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
                                                    hill food Jan 21, 2009 11:13 PM

                                                    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
                                                      t
                                                      tariqata Jan 22, 2009 04:35 AM

                                                      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
                                                        r
                                                        rememberme Jan 27, 2009 11:07 AM

                                                        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.)

                                                  2. j
                                                    jaykayen Jan 21, 2009 09:36 PM

                                                    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
                                                      Caroline1 Jan 22, 2009 03:04 AM

                                                      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
                                                        d
                                                        DGresh Jan 22, 2009 04:27 AM

                                                        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
                                                          Caroline1 Jan 22, 2009 06:49 AM

                                                          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
                                                            Sooeygun Jan 22, 2009 06:55 AM

                                                            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
                                                              k
                                                              KTinNYC Jan 22, 2009 11:15 AM

                                                              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
                                                                kchurchill5 Jan 22, 2009 11:51 AM

                                                                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
                                                                  k
                                                                  KTinNYC Jan 22, 2009 12:12 PM

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

                                                            2. re: Caroline1
                                                              g
                                                              gfr1111 Jan 22, 2009 12:46 PM

                                                              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
                                                                Caroline1 Jan 22, 2009 01:57 PM

                                                                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
                                                            j
                                                            jaykayen Jan 22, 2009 12:34 PM

                                                            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
                                                              C. Hamster Jan 22, 2009 01:52 PM

                                                              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
                                                                szmeterling Jan 28, 2009 04:37 AM

                                                                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. marietinn Jan 21, 2009 09:19 PM

                                                              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
                                                                hill food Jan 21, 2009 09:41 PM

                                                                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. d
                                                                dmd_kc Jan 21, 2009 09:01 PM

                                                                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. ideabaker Jan 21, 2009 09:00 PM

                                                                  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!

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