The mysteries of kosher salt

As an avid viewer of Top Chef – and its sister show, Top Chef: Just Desserts, the first season of which was the greatest reality TV ever (say ‘The Red Hots are for my mommy!!’ to anyone who saw it for instant recognition and a nice bonding moment), the second season of which was really kind of meh – I’d grown accustomed to seeing them cooking with kosher salt. I figured that this was mostly just a product placement thing. In the same way that they get into their AMAZING SPACIOUS TOYOTAS and drive to WHOLE FOODS. Or the Project Runway people go to MOOD. (That one totally worked on me, by the way. I really want a Mood tote bag.) Or how in The Nine Lives Of Chloe King, despite the fact that she was, like, the messiah of a race of catpeople and had all sorts of creepy dudes trying to murder her and her family, she found time to say ‘Thanks Mom! It’s the disgusting Kia shaped like a post van that I wanted! And it’s a really awful colour, kind of like the vomit of someone who’s eaten only olives! I love KIA!!’, when, you know, you’d think she’d have more important things to worry about. I digress. You’ll have to get used to that.

Anyway! While it certainly is product placement (although not that effective, because I still couldn’t tell you the brand), apparently kosher salt is actually also a thing. For the longest time, I thought ‘how can salt be kosher?’, or rather, ‘surely all salt is kosher?’. After extensive research (that is, falling into a wikipedia hole), I learned that it should really be called ‘koshering salt’, in that it’s the salt used to remove the surface blood from meat to make it kosher. It’s got long flakes, rather than crystals.  For Christmas, I received the book Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Cafe. It’s awesome and is getting me into baking, like I’ve meant to for about half a decade. Joanne Chang, the lady behind Flour (also a Harvard graduate in Economics and Applied Mathematics), claims ‘it has a cleaner, milder flavor than table salt and its coarser grains allow you to control the amount you use more easily’, and has based all the books recipes around the use of kosher salt.

So I figured I’d try to get some. Of course, as Top Chef and Flour are both American, and I’m in the UK, that was easier said than done. So I didn’t. I did, however, manage to find flaked salt, in the shape of salt from The Cornish Sea Salt Company. Forgive the product placement, but I figure it’s worth declaring. It’s got to be better than ‘Mum discovers amazing beauty secret! Botox doctors hate her!’ anyway, right? I could do without the twee little ‘low tide’ and ‘high tide’ markers on the tub to indicate that you’ve nearly run out of salt, because I’m able to tell that from the fact that I’ve nearly run out of salt.

Now, I can be unforgivably pretentious about food. The height of it was buying white balsamic vinegar for the sole purpose of not discolouring a risotto. And even though I will argue vociferously that there’s an appreciable difference between different waters, I still thought that salt was salt was salt. Turns out I was wrong.

The recipes from Flour call for tiny amounts of salt. Half a teaspoon in a whole cake. Super-rich cakes that are made with, like, three packets of butter and a pound of sugar. And even that tiny amout of salt cuts through the sweetness and gives a bite to the cakes that makes them taste, frankly, amazing. It ‘completes’ the taste in your mouth, if you like. I really think that using table salt in its place wouldn’t have the same effect. The other day I did a chicken breast on my flatmate’s George Foreman grill (which is a whole nother post in itself) and put on some pepper and a tiny bit of the Cornish salt. It was kind of a revelation.  Salt working properly as a flavour enhancer. Nature’s monosodium glutamate!

Now I still don’t know about kosher salt specifically. Maye one day I’ll try the schmancy food halls, or go to Whole Foods in my spacious, smooth-driving Toyota (just kidding, I can’t even drive) to try and find some. But there are differences between salts, flaked salt makes a genuinely difference to the way things taste as compared with table salt, and I’m one step further along with path to being an insufferable food snob. Hurrah!

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