As we are on the verge of a blizzard again (starting sometime this afternoon) and since salt will be used to melt the snow, it reminded me that we should look at its various types and their role in cooking. Salt is the oldest known spice, its flavor is versatile, it is a staple of cooks and bakers.
What’s Cooking America describes its uses:
Enhancing almost every dish, salt is added to breads, meats, fruits and vegetables to sauces and desserts.
Additionally, salt aids foods in a variety of ways like:
Preservation – helps protect against microorganisms, bacteria through dehydration and preventing growth of bacteria, which slows or prevents spoilage.
Texture Aid – in bread making, allows the dough to rise by giving helping the gluten hold more water and carbon dioxide. In meats it improves tenderness and in cheeses it aids in consistency of the cheese and the hardness of the rind.
Binder – in processed meats it helps retain water which reduces the loss of meat when cooking.
Color Developer – in processed meats it helps obtain the desired color. It also helps create a golden crust for breads.
Fermentation Control – slows and controls the fermentation process in:
- Cheese production
- Sauerkraut production
- Summer sausage production
The Food Network, talks about the three main types:
What is the difference between kosher salt, sea salt, and table salt?
For the cook’s purposes, the main difference between salts is in their texture. Table salt’s fine granules dissolve quickly, making it the preferred salt of bakers. Sea salt and kosher salt possess larger, irregular grains that add a delightful crunch and hit of briny flavor when sprinkled on food at the last minute. Generally, savvy cooks prefer kosher salt when cooking, since its coarse texture is easier to take a pinch of when seasoning savory dishes.
Chemically there is little difference between kitchen salts. All are at least 97 1/2 percent sodium chloride. But there are significant differences in the provenance and processing of these salts.
Table salt is mined from underground salt deposits, and includes a small portion of calcium silicate, an anti-caking agent added to prevent clumping. It possesses very fine crystals and a sharp taste. Because of its fine grain a single teaspoon of table salt contains more salt than a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt.
Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and receives little or no processing, leaving intact the minerals from the water it came from. These minerals flavor and color the salt slightly. However, because these salts are usually expensive, it is worth keeping in mind that they lose their unique flavor when cooked or dissolved.
Kosher salt takes its name from its use in the koshering process. It contains no preservatives and can be derived from either seawater or underground sources. Aside from being a great salt to keep within arm’s reach when you are cooking, it is particularly useful in preserving, because its large crystals draw moisture out of meats and other foods more effectively than other salts.
Gnocchi Di Patate Con Salsa Di Noci (adapted)
- 7 ozs walnuts
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 handful parsley leaves
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch cracked black pepper
- 1 dinner roll or slice of bread, crust removed
- 1 cup milk
- olive oil
- grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon unflavored yogurt
- cream or half and half
- Put 7 ozs of walnuts, a clove of garlic a handful of parsley, a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper in a food processor. Process until you have a rough paste. Then add a dinner roll or thick slice of bread, with the crust removed, soaked in milk and squeezed dry, olive oil, grated parmesan cheese and tablespoon of unflavored yogurt. Start processing and, as the you process, add either milk, cream or ‘half-and-half’ through the funnel until the mixture forms a fairly smooth sauce.
- Take your gnocchi and boil them in well salted water until they come to the surface of the water. Transfer them from the water with a slotted spoon into a large bowl, add a generous dollop of the walnut sauce, some more grated cheese and, if you like–although some sources call it heresy–a nut of butter. Mix gently with a spatula, adding a bit of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if need be. Serve immediately with additional grated cheese for those who want it.
I’ve made this a few times and I can assure you it is absolutely delicious!
Enjoy, gentle reader, enjoy!