One Chef’s Infatuation with Salt

Joseph Gionfriddo

Today Joe shares his absolute love for one of the most basic ingredients in every kitchen, salt.  Ever notice that the best restaurants never have salt shakers on the table?  There is a reason for that.  This is an ingredient that anyone who cooks at home, for friends, or professionally needs to master.  Without knowing how to properly use salt, your dishes will not pop with flavor in the same manner.

grainsaltWhere do I begin to talk about salt…?  It is quite possibly the most important of ingredients you can have in your pantry, or possibly in your entire home/restaurant for that matter.  I remember reading a magazine article about different chefs in Las Vegas and it gave a little bio about each chef along with a favorite dish and small list of favorite ingredients.   While many chefs said kobe beef, foi grois, or truffles, a few said salt… not fleur de sel, or grey Indonesian sea salt…just salt.  I have to say that I did then and still do now, have a much greater respect for those chefs that chose salt, the most basic of ingredients.  Such a small amount can bring a dull piece of food to life, and the simple act of seasoning a dish properly with just the right amount of salt can be the difference between a bad rating and a rave review!

There is essentially nothing that doesn’t benefit from a bit of salt.  Really think of any food or drink (maybe not wine), but just about anything, and there are people that feel the flavor is improved with salt.   Margaritas, Budweiser with a shot and a salt shaker, sports drinks, tequila shots…and that’s just beverages.  Food is even better friends with salt.  The humble cucumber becomes the amazing pickle.  The boring potato becomes the impossible to stop eating bag of chips.  The prince of summer produce, the red ripe tomato, becomes the king of the garden with but a pinch of salt on each bite.  Steaks, seafood, pasta, bread, cookies, cakes, chocolate, all taken to another level with but a few granules.
I don’t have the exact quote but there is a chapter in a book I once read about a famous Top Chef personality who at a young age began to be fascinated with barbecuing.  He grilled a plain steak and it was pretty good, then he grilled another with a pinch of kosher salt applied, and it got exponentially better.  One thing led to another and he had eventually grilled all the steaks adding a bit more salt to each consecutive one, just to see how the tastes changed/improved.  This simple act was perhaps as monumental as years in culinary school, a day of barbecuing and tasting, was the teacher for a class that for most takes countless hours to successfully master…how to properly season food.
At our steakhouse I use salt to season almost everything, as should any chef who is worth his or her salt (pun definitely intended).  I have a few different types that I like for different purposes.  On the menu it says that “At Caminito our steaks are seasoned lightly with coarse sea salt, and grilled over a natural hardwood fire”.  And to this day the three elements of flavor in that short sentence are the ones that have brought me the most notoriety: steak obviously, the smoke from the wood fire, and salt – the most important flavor enhancer ever!  The phrase Smoke, Salt, and Soul commonly graces the face of my advertisements, and in one review of the restaurant, our bison ribeye was described as “…subtly smokey, and bursting with flavor, with a sauce of salt, pepper, and fire.”  I’ll take that as a compliment any day.   
The next time you cook for a friend or family member, take special care to season properly with the exact right amount of salt, see if they notice and see if they then add more salt after the first bite.  If they don’t, you will almost assuredly be complimented and praised for the great meal!  

My name is Joseph Gionfriddo and I am in love with salt!

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Photo by: jlrfm
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