Cooking with Salt: Part 3

Hello Dear Heart!

How have you been?? Very well, I hope. It is High Season here in the Palm Beaches and there is so much to do. The gardens are prolific this season as the weather has been quite warm for this time of year. With the abundance of fresh vegetables coming in almost daily from the garden, I have resorted to preserving some for later in the year and giving nice little packages of them to my close friends. They are thrilled to receive them and the quality of freshly-harvested and home-grown produce is unequaled.

Well, Dear, on the business at hand! Last time we discussed how salt works with food. There is just a little more that I want to tell you about this precious seasoning, Hon, before moving on to other topics. First, using salt, herbs and oils together is an essential art form that must be mastered to be a successful cook. The key, Dear, is to use balance and restraint. When cooking vegetables or meat in dry heat and high temperatures (such as stir fry or roasting), they can dry out and become tough. Brush or toss them with a little amount of oil before cooking to help seal in the moisture. Add the salt at the end of cooking, whether sprinkled directly on or added as part of a sauce or broth. The oil will seal the meat or vegetable against the drying effects of the salt. For most herbs, this is the best time to add them as well- not because they can affect the moisture content of the food, but because some of the fragile flavors in the herbs can be damaged or destroyed by high heat. The main point here, Dear Heart, is to use the oil as a barrier to moisture loss from the food being cooked and to put the seasonings over (but not mixed with) the oil. The tongue will first encounter the seasonings, then spread it into the moist food as you eat.

If you are boiling or steaming vegetables, adding the salt during cooking is fine. You can also wait to toss the freshly cooked vegetables with seasonings before serving.

Salt and herbs will release their intense flavors into water-based liquids, such as broth or sauces or liquid that runs off of cooking vegetables. Salt does not dissolve in oil itself, so doesn’t actually impart a flavor to it. The flavor that we adore in most herbs are actually essential oils that can be released into oil. So, you can flavor oils with most herbs, but not with salt.

A few other basic principles to understand, Hon, is that oil can burn or scorch when subjected to high heat, but salt does not. At high temperatures, herbs (and maybe even the oil) will change flavors, but salt will not. To release the most flavor from your seasonings, don’t coat the salt grains or herbs with oil. When oil is mixed with salt or seasonings, it inhibits their flavor-enhancing effects. This is why it is so important to add seasonings separately. Lastly, herbs won’t draw moisture from food as salt does, so they can be used at any time during the cooking process when oil is not involved. Just recall that they can change flavors if cooked for long periods of time or under high heat.

Well, I’m off to enjoy the beautiful day! I think a drive along the ocean will do me good. As always, Hon, you are in my thoughts. Take care and until next time, Kisses!

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