Author Margaret Visser describes salt as “the policeman of taste: it keeps the various flavors of a dish in order and restrains the stronger from tyrannizing over the weaker.” Until recently, I would have probably disagreed with Ms. Visser. To me salt was just… well, salt. That thing that you put in because otherwise food would taste bland.
And then I started to make carnitas at home. No matter how many different recipes I tried, they never seemed to taste right. The two things that finally turned them from blah to kapow! were following Kenji López-Alt’s amazing recipe and adding plenty of salt. Suddenly, my carnitas were everything that I wanted them to be: moist but crisp and flavorful enough to be able to stand up to bold toppings. Ms. Visser was correct after all: salt is the key to bringing balance to any dish.
Still, I don’t think I really realized what the correct amount of salt can do for a dish until I tried Maldon salt. This type of salt is usually coarser than both kosher and sea salt. It comes in these beautiful flakes that make it the perfect topping for, in my opinion, most dishes. It gets its name from the town in eastern England where it has been produced for over a hundred years. Maldon salt is crunchy, and yet it melts in your mouth almost immediately after consuming it. My favorite way to use it is to put it on heirloom tomatoes in the summer. Seriously, just sprinkle some of it on a tomato and stuff it in your face. It will change your life.
Now, I’m not telling you to go out and put massive amounts of salt in all your dishes. I’m just saying that you might want to take some time to taste different types of salt and see if you can reach your own salt epiphany.
The perfect way to get started might be this next recipe, which uses kosher rather than Maldon salt. It was inspired by Danielle Oron’s delicious sumac chicken salad . In case you are not familiar with it, sumac is a Middle Eastern spice with a wonderful citrusy flavor. I made a big batch of sumac salt to season the chicken and was trying to think of other ways to use it when I realized that it would be perfect sprinkled over crunchy cucumber spears (another epiphany!).
I recommend sprinkling the cucumber spears with the salt rather than rolling them in it. This will give them a lighter coating and prevent them from tasting too salty. I would also suggest using coarse kosher salt rather than fine sea salt since it’s not as salty and won’t overpower the sumac. In a scale of saltiness (from most salty to least), this is how I usually rank the three types of salt that I’ve mentioned in this post: sea salt, kosher, Maldon.
What’s your favorite way to use salt? Leave your comments below!
Cucumber Spears with Sumac Salt and Yogurt Ranch Dressing
These cucumber spears are the perfect healthy snack. They take just minutes to make and are gluten free.
- For the sumac salt:
- 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- For the yogurt ranch dressing (minimally adapted from Danielle Oron’s Sumac Chicken Salad with Labne Ranch):
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt
- 4 tablespoons chopped chives
- zest from half a lemon
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon mild mustard powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- kosher salt to taste
- For the cucumber spears:
- One large cucumber, seeded and cut into spears
- Step 1 Combine all the ingredients for the sumac salt in a small bowl and set aside.
- Step 2 Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside while you prepare the cucumber spears. If it comes out too thick, add a bit of extra buttermilk to thin it out.
- Step 3 Hold each of the cucumber spears over the bowl containing the sumac salt and sprinkle them on all sides with it. It’s OK for some of the salt to fall off the cucumber. It will keep them from being too salty.
- Step 4 Serve with the ranch dressing on the side for dipping.
Any leftover ranch dressing is great on a variety of different salads. It will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge.