The purpose of salt isn’t to make food taste salty; rather, it elevates the natural flavors already present in food. So says Chef Meg Galvin, who teaches foundation classes and a healthy cooking class at Midwest Culinary Institute. “If you start with ingredients that don’t contain salt, you control what goes into the dish,” she says. Here are some of her recommendations for using salt in your kitchen.
BUILD FLAVOR. Add a pinch of salt as you go; for example, when you begin to sauté onions and other aromatics, and again when you add other ingredients to the pot. “You want to add salt early to get deeper penetration in the food,” Galvin says. “When something is simmered, or about halfway through, give it another bit. You may not need to add any more at the end.”
TASTE AS YOU COOK. Keep a glass jar of small spoons near the stove, so you can sample your dish throughout cooking. “You have to taste as you cook,” Galvin says. “When you oversalt, there’s not a whole lot you can do.”
JUST A PINCH. Grab just a bit of salt between your thumb and forefinger. Chefs use kosher salt or medium-grain sea salt for basic seasoning because it’s easy to pinch.
HOLD IT HIGH. “When you season food, you have to season high,” Galvin says. “When you watch a cooking show, you see the chef holding his hand high over the dish—there’s a reason for that. When you season directly over your food, you’re concentrating over one part of the food. But you want to disperse salt all over the food.”
CHOOSE TWO (AT LEAST). At the very least, keep two salts in your kitchen: a fine-grained, moderately salty one for cooking, and a more mineral-rich, flavorful version for finishing. From there, experiment with different kinds. Chef Galvin’s must-haves: a basic kosher for meats, a coarse or fine sea salt, and a fleur de sel for finishing. “I also think black salt is really cool, and I love pink Himalayan as well,” she says.
FOR SALADS. Use a crunchy flake salt to season a green salad. Be sure to lightly salt your greens before dressing to enhance their flavor; you won’t need as much dressing.
MAKE YOUR OWN HERBED SALT BLENDS. A chef’s goal is to use up everything in the kitchen, so Galvin shares a genius tip: When you strip the leaves off woody herbs like rosemary and thyme, tuck the stems into a mason jar of sea salt to infuse the flavor. This homemade herbed salt is great to use yourself or to give as a gift.
TREAT SALT AS A SEASONAL INGREDIENT.
Summer, Galvin says, is a great time to cut back on salt, because foods served cold (gazpacho, salsa, a platter of sliced tomatoes) need less seasoning. Rotate herbed or citrus-infused blends into your summer salt lineup.
ADD FLAVOR WITHOUT SALT.
In her Healthy Cooking class, Galvin encourages students to find alternate ways to season food. “We use salty ingredients like capers, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, olives, or gochujang [a Korean hot pepper paste] to build in more depth without adding more salt.” Too, she says ,a spritz of fresh lemon juice to finish a dish reduces the need for salt.
BUY THE GOOD STUFF. Salt doesn’t go bad, so Galvin recommends stocking up on fancy salts when you find them on sale. “Is it worth spending more on good salt? Yes. If I’m only allowed a teaspoon a day, doesn’t it make sense to get as much flavor out of that teaspoon as possible?”
Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.