A Pinch of Salt is Never Out of Season
Contributed by: Skip Lombardi
For years, salt has been an enfant terrible among the medical
community because of its perceived effect on blood pressure. But
recent studies suggest that people with normal blood pressure derive
no benefit from avoiding salt. And some researchers are questioning
the value of curtailing dietary salt even for people with high blood
Of course you and your doctor will ultimately determine how much salt
is acceptable for you. But this could be liberating news for a
growing number of home cooks who have resigned themselves to a life
of eating bland food.
How many times have you had the sense that a dish needed, "just a
pinch of salt?" And then, how many times afterward have you felt that
the dish turned out to be too salty? Perhaps it wasn't the whole dish
that needed seasoning, but the ingredients that went into it.
Cookbook author Patricia Wells has said, if you season foods as
you're cooking, you'll have a well seasoned dish. If you add salt
after the dish is cooked, you'll end up with salty food. And FoodTV
chef, Emeril Lagasse is fond of saying, "I don't know where you get
your _________ (fill in the blank), but where I get mine, it don't
The idea is to season foods as you cook them, or "season as you go."
In the 1970's, Juila Child demonstrated on one of her PBS television
shows, that if you season food as you're cooking, you'll use far less
salt than you would typically use at the table. Or, for that
matter, less salt than a recipe might call for.
A pinch of salt-subjective as that measure may be-usually amounts to
less than 1/8 tsp. And when you apply it from "some altitude," as
Jamie Oliver says, you'll very likely need even less than a pinch,
because you'll broadcast it on a wider area of the ingredients.
Is the type of salt you use significant? Yes and no. Here are two
facts: all salt is created equal. All salt is sea salt. Certain
differences crop up when you introduce variables like crystal size,
and additives like iodine and calcium silicate (a harmless additive
that keeps the salt free-flowing), but the fact remains; all salt is
Minerals, you say? You say you just paid $14.95 for those four ounces
of fleur de sel? Well, it may have started out with more minerals
than common table salt, but it's likely that the minerals were washed
away in the purifying process mandated by the FDA, leaving you with
four ounces of expensive table salt.
How could all salt be sea salt? It says on the package here that it
came from a mine. I'm sure it did. Several eons ago, there was an
ocean where that mine sits today. Over the course of a few of
thousand years, the ocean evaporated, leaving behind an entire layer
of salt in the earth's crust.
So what should you be concerned about? The size of the crystals.
Restaurant chefs nearly all use either "sea salt," or kosher salt.
They do so because the crystals are larger than those of common table
salt, they have irregular shapes, and therefore, adhere to food
So how does the concept of "seasoning as you go" work? The next time
you cook a dish that requires several steps, think about adding some salt along with each
new ingredient. For example, let's say you're making some classic
American comfort food: Beef Stew.
If you flour the beef before browning, add some salt and pepper to
the flour. This will
season the beef. As you add carrots, celery, and onions, take a pinch
of salt and season them as they go into the pot. When you add liquid,
taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if you feel it's necessary.
When you add potatoes, season them with a pinch of salt. I promise,
you'll be amazed by the result. And you shouldn't need to add any
seasoning at the table.
What about individual vegetables? They're perhaps the most important.
If you're steaming or sautéing something like broccoli, asparagus, or
spinach, wait a minute or two into the cooking, then give them a good
pinch of salt (and a few grinds of pepper as well).
For vegetables that start out dry-like salads--I don't salt the
greens themselves-the salt would simply fall to the bottom of the
salad bowl. But I dissolve a little salt in the vinegar as I'm
preparing the dressing.
Finally, here's an experiment to try at home the next time you make
Tuscan roasted potatoes.
Peel the baking potatoes and cut them into 1 in. chunks. Add them to
a sheet pan, and toss with 2 or 3 Tbs. of olive oil. Add 2 or 3
sprigs of fresh rosemary (leaves only), and 1 bulb of garlic, with
the cloves split apart, but unpeeled.
Now, apply a generous pinch of salt to half the potatoes, but leave
the other half unseasoned, and bake at 375 F. for approximately 45
minutes. You be the judge at dinnertime.
About the Author:
Skip Lombardi is the author of two cookbooks: "La Cucina dei Poveri:
Recipes from my Sicilian Grandparents," and "Almost Italian: Recipes from America's
Little Italys." He has been a Broadway musician, high-school math teacher, and software
engineer, but has never let any of those pursuits get in the way of
his passion for cooking and eating. Visit his Web site to learn more
about his cookbooks. http://www.skiplombardi.com or