Salt, the mineral form of sodium chloride (NaCl), played a big role back in the middle age. It was called white gold because indeed it was more expensive than gold. We can hardly imagine how tasteless the food of farmers and normal workers must have been. Only rich people could afford salt and bring their food to taste.
When we are talking about salt we need to think about the several sources of salt that we know. Salt is mostly a natural product.
The most common sea salt for most of us is probably “Fleur de sel”, queen of the French cuisine. Sea salt is made by the evaporation of sea water, for example in France or Spain. Sea water is gathered in laege basins and left until enough water has evaporated; here, the saturation of salt helps with the crystallization process. This method requiresa warm and dry climate with lot of sun hours. This is why this method is also called the solar method. These kind of salts can be bought in common supermarkets under the name sea salt.
A different way is a Japanese method. In Japan, they have thousands of different kinds of sea salt. Since the climate in some regions of Japan is too cold, they are not able to use the solar method. Instead, sea salt in Japan is produced by using seaweed that is first dried and then cooked out. Afterward, the sea salt is harvested by letting the water evaporate above heat. Based on the area where the seaweed is growing it contains different minerals and therefore different kinds of taste profiles occur. The modern form of this salt can be bought under the name Amabito no Moshi. See here for a direct link.
Rock salt, also known as halite, is salt that occurs in beds of sedimentary evaporate minerals as results of dried-up lakes or seas. It usually is colorless or white in color but can vary from light blue to pink, yellow or even red depending on its mineral components. Rock salt is manly obtained through mining.
Dried fish, mushrooms and ripe cheese - UMAMI
Yes, also dried fish, mushrooms and ripe cheese are a source of salt. But in this case, we do not speak about sodium chloride (NaCl). These foods contain natural monosodium glutamate (MSG, C5H8NO4Na). It is mostly know for its extensive usage in Asian convenience food or as taste enricher for other foods. With ripe cheese, we are even able to see the salt crystals that are produced during the aging process.
Soy sauce also belongs in this category. Soy sauce its self does not contain salt as we know it, but as a result of the fermentation process, of soybeans, grain, brine aspergillus sojae molds, glutamic acid is made. This in large free amounts and with a chemical reaction in our mouth gives a salty taste. Infact, glutamic acid is the main component of MSG, the famous flavor enricher.
How to use it
Now that we know about the sources and different kinds of salt, we can have a look at how to use it.
The amount of salt we need for cooking depends on different factors:
- Amount of ingredients
- Amount of liquid (in case of boiling, blanching a product in water)
- Desired taste
If we want to blanch vegetables, with a cooking time of 2 to 3 minutes in boiling water, we need to use a large amount of salt since the product will be in contcat with the salty water for a very short amount of time. After blanching you will need to cool the products down with lots of ice water, this will also wash some of the residual salt away.
Making a soup, we need less salt because all the flavor it gives will stay in the product. If too much salt is ued accidentally adding water or unsalted vegetable bullion can help reducingn the salty taste.
But you can also use salt just as a taste enhancer on a piece of meat, in a dressing for a salad or any other product to create more flavor.
Miso, Kombu, and Katsuobishu
Miso is one of the soups that many of us connect with Asian restaurants. Miso itself is a fermented paste from soybeans originating from the Japanese cuisine. It is a great taste enhancer as it is pure UMAMI flavor. You can add it to a sauce, soup or any other dish to enhance the flavour. And of course, you can make the famous miso soup with it or use it as a paste to ferment other products like fish.
You can also use kombu and katsuobushi to make a stock called dashi. Kombu are dried seaweed leaves that are sold on the Asian market. Katsuobishu is a dried fish, mostly tuna, that is sliced thinly. By cooking these two ingredients in the water, you create a salty stock that can be used as a base for miso soup or any other soup, sauce or another dish of your choice.