Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Importance of Salt

Our chef instructors tell us over and over again: the difference between merely acceptable food and memorable food is salt. We seasoned our boiling pot of potatoes, corn, Andouille sausage and Sacramento Delta crawfish with heaps of salt.

We're talking CUPS went into this crawfish boil. Louisiana native Chef Tucker Bunch (could he be from anywhere but the South with a name like Tucker Bunch?) tossed in handfuls of peppercorns, Bay leaves, coriander and chili flakes too, but the amount of salt surprised me.

The taste, however, was perfect. The live crawfish don't actually absorb that much cooking liquid since they still have their shells on. The potatoes aren't cut at all, and the corn picks up more spice than salt. Lunch was so finger-licking good that the limited elbow room at the counter caused a few spats. Alright, it was mainly me telling others to back off my real estate, but that's only because I couldn't get enough!

I do try to limit my salt intake for health reasons. My doctor reminds me to eat less salt every time I come in for a physical. While lower salt intake does have health benefits, don't cut it out completely. Salt is an essential nutrient and a vital ingredient.

Salt was once the most important commodity in the world. In Roman times, its value was so great that payment for labor or services was often made with salt. Our speech today reflects this ancient practice with the word salary (from the salt root sal-) and expressions such as “any man worth his salt.” It is also reflected in the fact that I love sea salt on everything from dark chocolate to hard-boiled eggs.

For more interesting food facts and history, check out:
Mark Kurlansky's book Salt, a history of the mineral's importance
and Harold McGee’s food lore and science bible, On Food and Cooking

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