If you were to ask me what I could never do without in my kitchen, my first response would be my beloved chef knives. But after a few minutes to really ponder this hypothetical question, I change my answer. I cannot live without salt.
Kosher Salt to be exact. I think every cook should have a ramekin of the stuff on hand, along with a matching partner of coarse ground pepper. Keep it close. Use them often. Pepper mill aficionados… chill. I love a good pepper grinder, really I do. But when I’m cooking away, I want instant use of 2 basic and necessary ingredients at the ready. I also have a really small kitchen, and a pepper mill of quality and size is just a disaster waiting to happen, trust me on this one. And, as often as I cook, that little ramekin of pepper gets used and refilled more often than your musty old peppercorns anyway, I will bet.
Now, I will probably get slammed by some folks who are under strict guidance by their physicians to refrain from using salt and follow a ‘low-sodium’ diet, and you have my sympathies. Really you do. Because I cannot envision cooking without it. A little goes a long way, which is why I recommend kosher salt over the conventional blue canister, fine grain product. I actually find myself over-salting food when I use that dredge. Its flavor seems nearly metallic and bitter, where the kosher salt is cleaner, rounder and evenly ‘melts’ into the food as it cooks.
Which gets me to my second salt suggestion. COOK with it. Don’t use it as an afterthought. If you’re going to make burgers, then for the love of Pete, mix some in with the meat, not on top after you pull them off the grill. Cook with salt in stages. If you are making a pasta sauce, when sautéing the vegetables, garlic, onions or what have you, add some salt as you cook them. Hit the pan with some wine, add the tomatoes, and a bit more salt. Simmer for a while, and then tip number 3:
Taste. What. You. Are. Cooking. See if it needs anything. (Like more salt.)
I once cooked with someone in a restaurant who when asked if their sauce was ready for service they replied, “I think so.”
“Does it need anything?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t taste it.”
I think I actually stepped off the line and promptly walked into the walk-in where no one would hear my mind-splitting screams of frustration and rage. I mean come on people, and this goes for the home cooks out there as well. A tremendous amount of time and effort goes into preparing food. You shop for it. You decide what you are going to make with it. You prep and prepare said food. You serve it. And what happens?
“Please pass the salt.”
Oh, and for those of you who are reading this and don’t even taste the food that’s served to you before you create one of the worst mortal sins in the world of food and cover it in salt and/or pepper? Come to my house and I will slap you. Hard.
But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that salt can be your friend, not your enemy. If you buy real food, treat it with love and respect, season as you go, and taste the final product, your reward will be a delicious, gorgeous meal, regardless of its simplicity. Hell, maybe because of it. And, if you aren’t constantly relying on pre-made/processed foods, but actually preparing and eating fresh, real food, chances are you will never have to be privy to the horrors and disgusts that is better known as ‘Mrs. Dash’.