Salting as a deliberate act.
Sounds a bit intense. And for Mark Bitterman, it is. Its a call to action, a plan to banish bland food.
Think about salting as a deliberate act, says Bitterman, author of Salted (Ten Speed Press, 2010), a 312-page devotional to salt. This isnt about being a fancy chef. Its about how to make every single food you eat in your daily life come alive.
Because truth is, salt has a powerful effect on food. And just a little bit goes a long way. Most importantly, salt added at the stove or table isnt what worries health officials. That would be the salt added to processed food.
So salt on. And here are Bittermans tips to help you sort through the maze of salts that crowd the market.
Salts vary in moisture, mineral content and the size and structure of their crystals, Bitterman says. Moisture dictates mouth feel, while mineral content will play up or tone down a foods intrinsic qualities, such as fruitiness. Crystal size creates different sensations on the tongue.
For example, a salt with a broad, flat flake say a Maldon sea salt will offer an electrical pop of salt or even a kapow, he says, while the moisture-filled micro-grains of a French fleur de sel will create a pliant, supple feeling on the tongue.
Using the language of wine, Bitterman talks about salts that are unctuous, that impart spiciness or butteriness. He refers to a salts meroir, the qualities it derives from its ocean, and calls himself as a semelier.
And hes on a mission to change the way Americans think about and use salt. First, he says, get over the idea that salt is cheap. A box will last a year, so if costs $5 or $15 it doesnt matter, he says Next, get in touch with your palate. If you like boldness, go with flaky salt. If you like subtlety, go with fleur de sel. But also know that not only does each salt taste differently, they must be stored differently, too. Flaky salt can be kept on the table in a simple dish; fleur de sel should be stored in an airtight container.
Bitterman also believes kosher salt is too refined to be tasty (and dont even think about the stuff in the round box). For an all-around cooking salt, use sel gris instead, he advises, a large-grain, relatively inexpensive salt full of character-giving minerals. And most important: salt consciously.
Salt is the single most effective flavor enhancer you have, he says. It outstrips every other spice and seasoning to bring out the flavor of the food.