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Salt of the earth
I think America has a love and hate relationship with salt.
Studies show that too much salt will increase your blood pressure, but too little salt is also harmful for your body. The American Heart Association advises adults to get no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium daily. That's about one teaspoon of salt.
Salt adds flavor as it opens the taste buds. Food companies use salt to make their over-processed food taste good to our palate. Just buy a can of soup with no salt and see how long it is ‘til you are hunting down the salt shaker. But that really won't help the taste much, because food needs to be seasoned and cooked in layers and that is why I love salt!
In ancient times salt was used as a form of currency. Villages were built around salt mines. Many of those ancient mines are still producing salt to this day. Before refrigeration salt was used as a preservative to keep foods from spoiling. Athletes have been given salt pills to replenish the salt they have lost during exercise. Spas and cosmetic companies use salt to smooth the skin. The uses for salt can fill page after page.
My love affair, or I should say intrigue, started with salt when I was very young. I grew up in Angels Camp, Calif., and in the park right below our house was a fenced-in old mine. If we were real careful, so the caretaker did not see us, we could wiggle under the fence. Right on the edge of the mine there were always salt crystals. My friends and I would sit on the edge of the mine with those salty diamonds melting on our tongues, trying our hardest to figure out where they came from - until we were discovered.
Other salty memories are of making ice cream. My first memory of salt is crying when dad started putting all that rock salt into the ice cream maker. I just knew he had ruined the ice ream with all that salt, but then to my amazement, the ice cream wasn't salty. After that I would bug my dad endlessly making him explain to me how salt made the ice colder.
I also remember running though the fields and finding the salt licks left for the cattle. Curious girl that I was, I would have to taste each block. I found the pink ones most to my liking.
Once while in a chef store in Los Angeles I was so intrigued by the whole aisle devoted to the different salts from around the world. Salt comes in every color and texture that you can imagine. There is the white table salt that we are all familiar with, then there is kosher which is like little salt rocks, some sea salts are flaky, some are soft and moist and the salt from the Mediterranean is pink in color. I have found salts flavored with black truffles, cloves, rosemary - the possibilities are as numerous as your imagination.
Each salt has a different taste. It is easy to find your favorites by doing a salt-tasting test. All you need are some different salts and a glass of water. Just place a few grains of salt on your tongue and let it dissolve into your mouth. Once you have the full taste of the salt throughout your mouth, rinse out your mouth and do the same to the next. I have found that this is the easiest way to fully taste and appreciate the differences in salts.
You do not need to purchase numerous types of salt; I have found three are just the right amount in my kitchen. I cook mainly with kosher salt. I find it is not as strong as table salt, dissolves quickly into the foods and is easy to add a pinch. Sea salt is a little stronger; it adds a nice flake to finished foods. For your salt shaker I recommend salt with iodine salt, as our bodies do need that mineral.
Salt makes food taste good! It adds, enhances and brings out flavor in our foods. Salt will make sweet food sweeter; try making cookies and not adding salt. You will find they are not as sweet as the batch with salt. The important thing with salt is not to add too much, but do so in layers. A little pinch of salt will make the fresh foods you are eating pop with flavor.
I found the following potato recipe in the Food Network Magazine and was intrigued by the story that accompanies it.
Syracuse, N.Y., was a salt-producing city in the 1800s. The salt workers would boil giant kettles of briny water to extract salt. Come lunchtime they would drop potatoes into the pots. Because there was so much salt in the water, the boiling temperature was higher than usual, resulting in potatoes having crunchy crust and a super-creamy center. This recipe is easy, and believe me, the results are wonderful.
4 pounds small potatoes (I use red)
2¼ cups kosher salt
1 stick of butter
• Put clean potatoes, 8 cups water and salt in a pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, about 30 minutes
• Drain the potatoes in a colander and shake to remove excess water. Let the skins dry in the colander so that some of the salt crystallizes.
• Serve the hot potatoes with melted butter for dipping
This chicken recipe showcases the layering of flavors.
Start with a small amount in the cavity and finish with flakes on the finished bird. This recipe could also be done on you BBQ during these hot summer months.
Simple Roasted Lemon Chicken
3- to 4- pound whole chicken
sel gris (or coarse French sea salt)
4 grinds cracked black peppercorns
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large lemon, cut in half, seeds removed
Preheat oven to 425ºF.
Sprinkle the interior cavity of the chicken with a large pinch of sel gris and the cracked black pepper. Coat the outside of the chicken with the olive oil and place the chicken breast-side down in a ceramic roasting pan. Squeeze the lemon all over the chicken and put the spent lemon halves inside the chicken cavity.
Roast for 45 minutes and turn the chicken breast side up. It’s easiest to use large tongs with one arm inserted into the chicken cavity and the other gripping the back of the chicken.
Roast for about 20 minutes more, until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 170ºF.
Remove the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 5 minutes before carving. Carve the chicken and arrange in the center of a platter. Remove the lemon halves from the cavity and squeeze any remaining juice over the carved chicken. Scatter the remaining sel gris over the chicken.
If you don’t believe salt adds to the sweetness of something, try a bite of this caramel without the salt. Then add you salt and try again. I don’t think you will ever eat a caramel again without that pinch of salt!
Oh and make sure your temperature comes to 255 degrees.
Salted Chocolate Caramels
Makes about 65 carmels
2 cups heavy cream
10-1/2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
1-3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
Vegetable oil for greasing
Special equipment: parchment paper; a candy thermometer
Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch straight-sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment.
Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1-1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.
Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a 5-to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes. Tilt pan and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously).
Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255°F on thermometer, about 15 minutes. Add butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom or side of saucepan). Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.
Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares.
If desired, additional sea salt can be pressed onto caramels after cutting.
Caramels keep, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 weeks.
Caramels can be wrapped in 4-inch squares of wax paper; twist ends to close.