I did not truly realize the importance of salt in cooking until I was not allowed to use it. When I was pregnant with my son I was having issues with retaining water and my blood pressure was elevated. Doctor’s orders – cut out all sodium from your diet. Little did I know how hard that would be. It is virtually impossible to go to a restaurant and not eat salt. Most items on a menu are at least partially prepared before you order it and you would be hard pressed to find something that did not contain some salt. Forget prepackaged, frozen, canned or convenience foods – most often those are loaded with sodium. During that time I did a lot of eating at home, but could not believe the difference not adding salt to my food made to the taste of the dish. Recipes that I had made hundreds of times tasted terrible! My favorite foods tasted blah. It taught me that salt really is an important ingredient in cooking. It brings out the flavor, essence if you will, of the food. Tomatoes taste more like tomatoes, beef tastes more like beef, etc. I do not think that food needs to be overly salty, just that it should be salted appropriately.
Watching your sodium intake is a smart thing to do. So, I am not recommending that everyone go out and start eating a ton of salt. I actually find that if you salt your food in stages you do not need to use a lot of salt at all. For example, if I sauté vegetables for a stew I will add some salt to the vegetables as they cook down. The salt will actually draw out the moisture from the vegetables. Then I will add a bit of salt when I add the meat. Then I will add a bit of salt when I add the broth. The end product does not taste salty at all, but tastes really flavorful.
I try to use low sodium products whenever possible. Many prepackaged, frozen or canned products are loaded with salt. I would much prefer to control the amount of sodium in my food.
Then there is the debate of what type of salt to use. Here are the three most common types:
Table Salt – This is the salt that I grew up with. This was the salt that was in the salt shaker on the kitchen table and the type of salt my parents used when cooking. Table salt has a sharp taste and is made up of very fine crystals. A teaspoon of table salt actually contains more salt than a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt because its grain is so fine. This is also why you need to be careful of it in cooking because it can be pretty potent. The only time I really use table salt is in baking because it dissolves easily.
Kosher Salt – This type of salt has a larger grain size than table salt. It is called kosher salt because of its use in the koshering process and usually contains no preservatives. This is the salt that I prefer to use as it is inexpensive and easy to grab a pinch of it with its course texture. It was a pleasant surprise to me when I started to use kosher salt in my cooking as opposed to table salt. My food was so much better! I have never gone back.
Sea Salt – The name says it all. Sea salt is salt that is harvested from evaporated seawater. It receives little or no processing and the minerals flavor and color the salt. These salts are usually more expensive. It has a really nice crunch and texture and a unique flavor. When you cook with sea salt you loose the distinctive flavor so I really only use it as a finishing salt adding it only right before serving for special dishes.