Salt is one of the most overused, good-boy/bad-boy seasoning in our culture with a rich history, a dominant present and a promising future. I'll help you navigate your way through the world of salt to get the most out of this basic yet beloved mineral.
When in Rome
Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that people of the Neolithic period were extracting salt from spring water as far back as 6050 B.C. Ancient Egyptians were using salt as funeral offerings and bartering salted fish for cedar, glass and other commodities from the Phoenicians. In fact, salt was considered such a valuable commodity for its food preservation qualities that historians believe Roman soldiers were paid partly in salt, giving birth to the word "soldier" which translates to "sal dare" — to give salt.
Worth its salt
Salt is super versatile and used in the manufacture of more than 14,000 products — as a home remedy for red wine spills and other stubborn stains; to ease a sprained ankle when soaked in a salt bath; to preserve fish, vegetables and meats; to provide trace minerals and electrolytes including sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium for homeostasis and prevent dehydration; to reduce iodine deficiency that could lead to thyroid problems; to blissfully please a savory palate in the thousands of food combinations from pita chips and hummus, crackers and caviar, bagels and lox to pretzels, roasted nuts and popcorn straight up.
Rubbing salt in the wound
Salt overdoses have been linked to such health problems as hypertension or high blood pressure, increased risk of having a stroke and cardiovascular disease, heartburn, gastric or stomach cancer and ulcers. Standing advice: moderation.
Morton's move over. Salt has grown up from our childhood days of the basic refined sodium chloride to a gourmet salt buffet of colors, crystal shapes and sizes, becoming the seasoning of choice by chefs worldwide.
Sea salt is the generic term for a variety of unrefined salts extracted from a living ocean or sea. Sea salt aficionados enjoy the purer, zestier flavor as compared to refined table salt, along with the many variations in granule size, as well as the flavors and colors reflecting regional tastes.
Fleur de Sel, or "flower of salt," is considered the caviar of salts by salt purists. The true Fleur de Sel comes from the Guerande region of France and is harvested during ideal conditions only once a year from the top of sea ponds. Its unique perfume and flavor make it ideal as an artisan finishing salt for grilled fish and meats, salads and cooked veggies.
Hawaiian sea salt is a traditional Hawaiian table salt for seasoning and preserving. A natural mineral called "alaea," a volcanic baked red clay is added to the salt to infuse it with iron oxide, imparting an earthy flavor and rich, rusty color. Alaea salt is ideal for accenting Hawaiian dishes such as kalua pig and jerky, and enhancing mainland food as well, particularly pork loins and beef dishes.
Smoked sea salts are slow-smoked in cold smokers to infuse the personalities of certain woods into the salt grains. These smoked salts add a hickory punch to pasta dishes, sandwiches and salads, and especially roasted or grilled dishes.
Finally, kosher salt, which is not always sea salt, is a flake salt that derived its name from its use in Jewish kashrut preparation of meats. The flakes dissolve easier and have a lighter, cleaner taste than table salt. Kosher salt is used to flavor savory snacks and line the rim of a margarita glass.
To shake things up a bit, here's a savory Italian bread, olive and caper salad that makes a light lunch or a great taste bud teaser to kick off an Italian feast.
- 1 French bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 heirloom or vine-ripe tomatoes, cubed
- 6 kalamata olives, halved
- 2 Persian cucumbers, cut in coins
- 1/2 small red onion, coarsely chopped
- 1/3 cup of fresh mozzarella, cubed
- 3 tablespoons capers, drained
- 15 basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons red wine or Champagne vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Juice from one lemon
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
On low, heat the oil in a large skillet, add the bread and salt. Toss until the bread is golden brown.
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, olives, cucumber, onion, cheese, capers and basil, and add the bread.
In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients and toss with the bread mixture. Serve immediately or marinate for 30 minutes.
E-mail your favorite savory dish recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org or www.FreeRangeClub.com.