It used to be when a recipe called for salt, we’d whip out the blue, Morton’s container with the metal spout and measure the amount. We filled our shakers and gave nearly every dish a pinch of salt. Where do all those grains of salt come from and does one pinch differ from the other?
Traditional table salt is bulldozed from the earth. It’s then iodized, bleached and infused with anti-caking agents. All that processing removes many of the trace minerals and elements. Today’s cooks are trying other forms of sodium chloride to maintain salt’s natural ingredients and ramp up its flavor in the kitchen. Here are some varieties you might find useful.
Kosher Salt: Chefs love this non-iodized, fast dissolving salt, that got its name because its craggy crystals make it perfect for curing meat—a step in the koshering process. The coarse, flat crystal are easy to measure in your fingers and dispenses flavor quickly. Put it on everything from roasts to popcorn. Good for brining a turkey or rimming a cocktail glass or creating a rub for meat. The brand Diamond Crystal has no anticaking agents, that might cause an aftertaste.
Sea Salt: Sea Salt comes from evaporating salt water collected from the ocean and varies in color depending on the minerals it contains. Hawaiian sea salt is pink. In India they produce a black variety; in France it’s gray or light purple. The crystals also vary from fine to coarse. Flaked sea salt is the fastest dissolving of all salt grains. Italian and Sicilian varieties are high in iodine, fluorine, magnesium and potassium and are good on beef, seafood, poultry, salads and sauces. Fleur de Sel, the “caviar of sea salt,” is skimmed from the top of salt ponds, usually in France. It melts slowly in the mouth and lingers on the tongue.
Himalayan Pink Salt: This rock salt from Pakistan has red, pink and white hues. It’s considered the purist of salts, having been crystallized 250 million years ago, when ancient sea beds were covered with lava that protected them from pollution. Unlike most table salts, it’s sold without additives or processing.
Himalayan pink is touted for its health benefits because of its 84 minerals and elements. Slabs of the salt are cut and sold as a re-useable cook top and serving tray all in one. Thinly sliced meats, fish, vegetable and seafood can be seared, when placed atop a heated salt slab. Or, the pink block can be chilled for serving appetizers, sushi, cheese or desserts. I recently had a salmon appetizer at Truffles served on a slab of pink Himalayan salt, which made for great conversation.
Home cooks are less interested in slabs of salt and more concerned about just what a pinch of salt is when called for in a recipe.
What Is a Pinch of Salt?
So what’s exactly is a pinch? It the amount that you can pinch between you forefinger and thumb (though Julia Child used the three-finger pinch.)
Recently, the measurement has been defined more precisely: a dash equals 1/8 teaspoon; a pinch equals 1/16 teaspoon; and a smidgen is 1/32 teaspoon. There is still some debate in the culinary world about these measurements, so you might want to take all this with a grain of salt.
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