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Cupboard Essentials: Everything You Need To Know About Salt

Posted in: blog, on 17 Mar 2016

Nick Wyke
by Nick Wyke

In a nutshell

Any chef worth their, erm, salt will tell you that along with butter, salt is probably the key ingredient in his or her kitchen armoury. Judicious use of the right type of salt flakes can, quite simply, transform a dish.

Gone are the days of the humble salt and pepper shaker on the table, today it is more likely to be a Kilner jar or stone mortar filled with the sort of crystals that are harvested to standards every bit as rigorous as those of Breaking Bad's anti-hero Walter White.

From fleur de sel to pink Himalayan each artisan salt has its distinctive character. Chefs rave about pure-white, hand-harvested sea salt crystals for their soft, flaky texture and clean flavour. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall appreciates the way Cornish Sea Salt "crumbles easily between the fingers", while the chef Mark Hix thinks the "fresh, clean and intense flavour means you need to use less than other brands".

Taste

Well, salty of course. Technically, salt rounds off food by dialling down its bitterness while boosting its sweet and savoury aromas. Salt and caramel has been the taste marriage of the past decade with salt balancing the overt sweetness in caramel. Flavoured salts range from garlic to chilli and truffle.

Kitchen inspriation

Salt has a wide culinary use. Buttered corn on the cob and mashed avocado on toast are both proof that a mere sprinkle of a quality finishing salt goes a long way.

For well seasoned vegetables:

Try adding a pinch of herb marinated salt to buttered new potatoes, or chilli salt to baked sweet potato wedges.

For mouth-watering meats and fish:

Oak smoked salts add a bonus frisson of flavour to fish, meat and poultry. To make a rub, mix together toasted fennel seeds, garlic and mixed herbs with a splash of olive oil and spread it generously over chicken or chops as they are grilling.

For a fiery snack:

Lightly coat some cashew nuts in a bowl with butter and chilli sea salt, then cook in a pan for about two to three minutes.

For a sweet and salty treat:

Drizzle coconut oil, honey and sea salt over almonds then roast in the oven for about 20 minutes at 180C/Gas 4 or until golden brown — try them in salads or as an ice-cream topping.

For something fancy:

Truffle salt needs care because of its intense flavour but used carefully it can turn an ordinary eggs dish or a plate of chips into something special.

For something different:

Sprinkle a little salt over citrus fruits or slices of melon. Mark Bitterman, author of the engrossing tome Salted, suggests salting your ice-cream: "With a light sprinkling of salt, the flavours of the vanilla bean and cream really shine. This combination elicits a little dance of sweet and savoury."

Nutrition

Specialist sea salts should be unrefined which means not only are they typically lower in sodium and don't contain the caking agent added to table salt, but they retain more than 60 naturally occurring trace elements such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. These are said to help to both metabolise the sodium better and maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes in the body.

Well, I never...

Salt, it seems, is the new wine. Welsh salt company Halen Mon runs a tour of its new state-of-the-art HQ in Anglesey that includes a tutored salt tasting.

Nick Wyke

Nick Wyke

Food Expert

Nick Wyke is a Times journalist and food writer responsible for developing a range of creative and interactive content from commissioning food and wine video series, building communities through social media, and organising live cookery hangouts. His work at Times Food across digital platforms has been shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers New Media Award. He is passionate about colourful seasonal food cooked simply, inspired by Britain's booming food start-up scene and likes his G&T with lots of lime.

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