Cookbook author Mark Bitterman gives a recipe featuring salt and some salty advice.
Salting as a deliberate act.
Sounds a bit intense. And for Mark Bitterman, it is. It’s a call to action, a plan to banish bland food.
“Think about salting as a deliberate act,” says Bitterman, author of “Salted” (Ten Speed Press, 2010), a 312-page devotional to salt. “This isn’t about being a fancy chef. It’s about how to make every single food you eat in your daily life come alive.”
Because truth is, salt has a powerful effect on food. And just a little bit goes a long way. Here’s Bitterman’s tips to help you sort through the maze of salts that crowd the market.
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Salts vary in moisture, mineral content and the size and structure of their crystals, Bitterman says. Moisture dictates “mouth feel,” while mineral content will play up or tone down a food’s intrinsic qualities, such as fruitiness. Crystal size creates different sensations on the tongue.
For example, a salt with a broad, flat flake — say a Maldon sea salt — will offer “an electrical pop of salt” or even “a kapow,” he says, while the moisture-filled micro-grains of a French fleur de sel will create “a pliant, supple feeling” on the tongue.
Using the language of wine, Bitterman talks about salts that are “unctuous,” that impart “spiciness” or “butteriness.” He refers to a salt’s “meroir,” the qualities it derives from its ocean, and calls himself as a “semelier.”
And he’s on a mission to change the way Americans think about — and use — salt. First, he says, get over the idea that salt is “cheap.” “A box will last a year, so if costs $5 or $15 it doesn’t matter,” he says.
Next, get in touch with your palate. If you like boldness, go with flaky salt. If you like subtlety, go with fleur de sel. But also know that not only does each salt taste differently, they must be stored differently, too. Flaky salt can be kept on the table in a simple dish; fleur de sel should be stored in an airtight container.
Bitterman also believes kosher salt is too refined to be tasty (and don’t even think about the stuff in the round box). For an all-around cooking salt, use sel gris instead, he advises, a large-grain, relatively inexpensive salt full of character-giving minerals. And most important: salt consciously.
“Salt is the single most effective flavor enhancer you have,” he says. “It outstrips every other spice and seasoning to bring out the flavor of the food.”
Chevre with cyprus black flake sea salt and cacao nibs
Makes 8 servings
1 cup unsweetened cacao nibs
1 log (8-ounce)chevre (fresh goat cheese)
Two 3-finger pinches of Cyprus black flake sea salt
1. On a sheet of foil, spread the cacao nibs in a single layer. Roll the log of goat cheese carefully in the nibs so the cheese doesn’t stick to your fingers. Once the cheese is well coated, roll the log with a little more pressure to embed the nibs into the cheese. Place the cheese on a serving plate.
2. Sprinkle the cheese with the salt, allowing the crystals to tumble across the plate.
3. Cut the baguette into thin slices and arrange them around the cheese log or place them in a basket to serve alongside.
Recipe from Mark Bitterman’s “Salted,” Ten Speed Press, 2010
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 277 calories; 137 calories from fat (49 percent of total calories); 15 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 22 mg cholesterol; 25 g carbohydrate; 10 g protein; 5 g fiber; 645 mg sodium.