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Ever wonder why a recipe specifically calls for kosher salt? Ever wonder why you followed a recipe exactly and the resulting dish was too salty or too bland?
First, some background. Kosher salt is so named because it was originally designed to help in the process of koshering meats. Like common table salt, kosher salt consists of the chemical compound sodium chloride. Unlike common table salt, kosher salt typically contains no additives. Kosher salt crystals are larger and coarser than table salt crystals. In most professional kitchens, and in most professional recipes, kosher salt is the standard. This is because (1) the coarse crystals are easy to handle and measure out with your fingers; and (2) some believe that kosher salt, which is not processed as fine as table salt retains more minerals (although there is considerable disagreement on the veracity of this point).
Because kosher salt crystals occupy more volume than table salt crystals, when substituting kosher salt for table salt in a recipe or vice versa, you cannot do an even exchange – you must adjust the amount of salt. Kosher salt crystals can vary in size considerably from one brand to another so it is recommended that you use the conversion guidelines which are generally provided on the package. If there is no guidance provided, use roughly 2x more kosher salt (by volume) to replace table salt. Another reliable technique is to use weight measurements rather than volume measurements (i.e., grams rather than tablespoons). In addition to variations in the size of crystals, the density of the kosher salt crystals may vary between brands. As a result, you can use the exact same measure of kosher salt called for by a recipe, but end up with a much more salty dish. When that happens, the chances are that the recipe writer used a different brand of kosher salt. The two most common brands of kosher salt sold in the U.S., are Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt and Morton’s Kosher Salt, and they have a noticeably different impact on a dish. Diamond’s salt crystals are larger and less dense so, for the same volume, Diamond’s salt will pack less of a salty punch.
By now, you’re probably thinking something like “who the hell has time to worry about buying and storing multiple salts.” Despite having written this post, and having read a whole book just on salt (o.k., I’ll admit that I can get pretty geeky sometimes), I don’t make a big fuss about salt in my everyday cooking. I generally use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, because of its purity and because it’s a lot easier to add more salt to an under-seasoned dish than to correct an over-seasoned dish.
So what should you do? When in doubt, go kosher and adjust your measurements accordingly. If preparing a dish on the stove top, don’t add all the salt called for by a recipe at the beginning. Add some salt at the beginning to open up the flavors, but reserve adding more until closer to the end of cooking when the flavors have come together and you can get a truer sense of how much salt you personally feel the dish needs. The phrase “salt to taste” is not just put there to be vague and annoying – it’s your food so season it as you like.
With these basic herbs, spices and oils on hand, I have found that when both time and creativity are lacking, I can still come up with something flavorful to eat. These are all easy to find in any grocery or liquor store and are inexpensive. Read the rest of this entry »