Please pass the salt and pepper!

13 Apr

I am fortunate enough to work with a very talented chef.  I shamelessly pick his brain more often than I have a right to, but I do it anyway!  I will get a culinary idea stuck in my brain, then make a bee line for him to discuss it… poor guy!  When he is cooking, I put my schnozz right into the beautiful scents that his amazing creations emit.  And start with 20 questions.

What cut of meat is that?  Did you marinate it?  What seasonings are you using?  He has the patience of Job, and he is a foodie too, so he gives me the food 411.  But he has one basic premise that he does not waver from:  always salt your meat.  I have heard so many different theories of when, during the cooking process, to salt meat.  And I believe that every chef has their own twist on this.  Perhaps every home cooks should develop one too.  But whatever your twist is, just salt your meat!

What is salt?  Chemically speaking, it is a combination of sodium and chloride.  Like a magnet, it has a positive charge and a negative charge, so it is attracted to its counterpart.  And it is a perfect combination.  It is a naturally occurring mineral and has been around for centuries.  Food is better because of it and our body depends on it. Salt comes in many forms.

Kosher salt, sea salt, table salt, iodized salt, the list goes on and on.  It is used to season just about everything that we cook.  It is a seasoning as well as a condiment.  Salt has different size crystals thus has different uses when being used in cooking.  It is fun to try different types of salt and find a favorite.  At any given time, I have at least 3 different kinds of salt with different size crystals in my cupboard.   It is soluble in water so it dissolves beautifully while lending its subtle (if used correctly) tones to add  flavor to food.  It is also symbolic.

We can go all the way back to biblical times to begin seeing the symbolism of salt with phrases still around today, such as describing someone as “salt of the earth”.  Salt is thought to be healing and symbolic of wisdom.  It was also used in ancient times as a form of currency, thus was symbolic wealth.  It is a preservative, so it has also symbolized life.  And it is known universally around the world. So why has it gotten a bad rap at times?

Salt can be hidden in most processed foods, which is why is has become a bit of a taboo for some these days.  It can jack up the sodium in our body when we eat foods that contain hidden sodium.  Too much sodium in our diet can cause hypertension, and that can be a life threatening condition.  Hypertension means that our  blood pressure increases, and we don’t want that to be artificially inflated!  Like anything, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing if moderation is not practiced.  It is important to really look at food labels and watch the salt intake.  Best to try to keep salt in its natural form in our diet and keep processed food to a minimum.

Salt is good to cook with and on our food in moderation, and can be found on most kitchen tables.  It is rarely alone though, as the pepper shaker, or in my case pepper grinder, usually stands loyally by its side.  There is a reason that pepper always accompanies our salt shaker on the table.  It is a classic combination.  Go ahead and toss pepper on with your salt.  Better yet, use pepper with a little more wreckless abandon than salt.  When pulling out a great piece of meat, whether it is going in the oven or onto the grill, grab the shakers too!  Before that meat hits the heat, remember to not only salt, but pepper your meat.  Pepper comes in loads of fun forms too, so experiment and have fun with it.

In the grocery store, spend a little more time in the spice aisle to peruse the salts and peppers.  Keep your spices and seasonings fresh by replacing them often and using them regularly in your kitchen.  Get a little snobby with your choices.  Have fun.  And if the snob factor does kick in when picking your pepper, remember the words of satirist Andy Rooney  “When those waiters ask me if I want some fresh ground pepper, I ask if they have any aged pepper”.  Have fun cooking, and remember to salt (and pepper!) your meat!


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