No matter who you are, where you're from, or what your taste, a salt shaker lives on your table, your stovetop, or your counter. Perhaps all three. Salt is cheap and readily available. Hardly an item exists in your pantry that doesn't list it as an ingredient.
It's chemical name is "sodium chloride." Common table salt is produced by flooding salt deposits with water. The brine which results is then evaporated and the crystals are refined. Kosher salt is made similarly, though the brine is raked continually during evaporation. Sea salt is (obviously) evaporated from sea water. Certain varieties contain chemical additives that prevent clumping, allowing for free flow from shaker to your steak; iodine may also be added to prevent hypothyroidism in consumers. All salts are nutritionally equivalent, regardless of what type you decide to use.
Most foodies are well aware of kosher salt. It contains no additives and is much more coarsely ground. Kosher salt is deemed "kosher" in reference to its superior meat curing abilities; the salt itself hasn't been blessed by a rabbi or created in a special manner conforming to Jewish law. Simply, its larger crystals absorb more moisture than other forms of salt. Since Jewish law forbids consuming any blood, kosher meat is soaked and salted to remove any residue. The salt drew attention from gourmands because of its texture and distinct taste; its flakiness makes it melt more readily, it disperses more easily, and flavors dishes cleanly and crisply. It also looks
right pretty on the rim of a margarita glass or cushioning shucked oysters on a platter.
Salt serves hundreds of uses beyond flavoring your food or rimming your margarita at happy hour. Ever wonder about the purpose of that one teaspoon of salt in your basic bread recipe? Obviously, such a tiny amount couldn't create any real distinction in the end flavor of the loaf. To understand, we have to consider the main ingredient in most doughs: flour. Wheat flour contains proteins which, when mixed with water, form gluten. Gluten builds the framework within the dough. The proper gluten framework will be elastic enough to accommodate the gasses produced by yeast fermentation. Salt aids in this orgy by strengthening the gluten and regulating yeast fermentation. If the amount of salt is too low, fermentation runs unchecked; too much salt slows it to a useless halt. Have you ever, like me, been lazy tool and carelessly over-poured or scrimped on the salt required in the recipe? What the heck was that monstrosity you pulled from your oven when the timer went off?
While the West might have a firm handle on salt in its bread baking, the East has understood for centuries the ways in which it can be used in desserts. If you are shrinking back in horror, you are not alone. Dessert for me equals apple pie, strawberry milkshakes, chocolate truffles. What infidel would dare top his New York cheesecake with salt instead of fresh fruit and syrup?
While nothing of the sort has happened yet, we Americans should open our palates to the opportunities salt offers once the main course is eaten. Consider Ta Ko, a salty and sweet dessert offering from Thailand. This layered dessert tops a sweet corn bottom with a salty coconut top. Try to dip the tip of your spoon in the sweet and then scoop some salt on your way up.
The recipe is surprisingly quick and easy. For the sweet bottom layer, mix three and a half ounces of rice flour with five ounces of sugar. Add in two thirds of a cup of rose water and stir until the flour is well mixed. Place on medium heat and cook until the flour melts, continually stirring. Add in one ounce of corn flour and continue to stir until
melted. Fill dessert bowls halfway with the mixture and leave to cool. For the salty upper layer, mix two teaspoons of sugar, one teaspoon of salt, and two tablespoons of rice flour together. Add half a cup of coconut milk, stir all components together, and then place on low heat. Once the flour has melted, add this to the top of the cooled sweet layer and place in the fridge. Shortly before serving, brown sesame seeds in a small frying pan for roughly 30 seconds. Garnish each Ta Ko serving with the sesame seeds.
I searched high and low for a recipe with Western measurement units and finally had to settle with using an online weights and measures converter, so the amounts I used and have now given you are a little off. However, the Ta Ko was absolutely delicious. The contrast between the two sensations challenged my unsuspecting tongue, and I've never eaten something salty and coconut-ey before. I also finished a three course meal and left the dinner table feeling light as a feather... from a salty seagull.
(Special thanks to Yukari Rymar)