Lots to know about the salts of the Earth

features@beaufortgazette.comAugust 7, 2012 

Everyone has heard the expression, "Pass the salt." There are many people who want to automatically add salt to food, thinking that more is always better. Indeed, salt is a necessary part of our diets, but we need to control our intake.

Salt has always played a role in society. It is one of the most important commodities in our world, and there is plenty of it. Salt has more than 40,000 applications -- including in manufacturing and medicine -- but to most of us, its main function is in the kitchen.

Salt is becoming quite the hot item, with lots of new varieties popping up in grocery stores -- from Hawaiian red salt to Jurassic salt from Utah to multitudes of sea salt from Europe.

Here are some basics on this important ingredient:

TABLE SALT

Table salt (granular salt) is what most of us know. It is mined and processed to form small, uniform cubes. Additives prevent caking (and some medical problems). Most table salt is mined like coal or extracted by forcing water down into subterranean salt deposits. The resulting brine is pumped out and processed to form tiny, dense, cube shapes.

KOSHER SALT

Kosher salt is made by compacting granular salt between rollers that produces large irregular flakes. This shape allows the salt to easily draw blood when applied to freshly butchered meat (part of the koshering process). Unlike table salt, kosher salt contains no additives.

SEA SALT

Sea salt is created when ocean waters flood shallow beds along coastlines. During the summer months, the water evaporates leaving large salt crystals. The different waters and minerals from the surrounding land lend their flavors to these flaky salts.

LET'S SHOP FOR SALT

Try a variety of salts. For regular cooking, nothing beats kosher salt. It blends well, it is clean-tasting, easy to cook with and additive-free. Table salt can be harsh. The reality is that it isn't any saltier than other salts; it's just that the crystals are small and don't dissolve well. Because of this, they tend to linger on the surface of the tongue.

Sea salt is a finishing salt that gets its delicate flavor from a tradition of boiling sea water to form hollow pyramid-shaped crystals. The crystals can be crushed between your fingers, making for a light taste on your tongue.

And, as always, salt your food to your taste.

GRILLED SHRIMP AND SCALLOPS WITH WARM BACON VINAIGRETTE

Makes: 4 servings

2 strips thick bacon, diced

1/2 cup vegetable oil, divided

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

8 jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left on

4 sea scallops

2 tablespoons garlic

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon chopped cilantro

Preheat grill to high. Fry bacon for the vinaigrette in a large saute pan. Pour off all drippings, leaving bacon bits in the pan.

Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil, vinegar, sugar salt and pepper; keep warm. Toss seafood with remaining oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes in a bowl. Thread shrimp and scallops onto separate metal skewers.

Grill scallops on both sides. Remove seafood from skewers and arrange on plates, then drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with cilantro.

TOMATO, HAM AND FONTINA FRITTATA

Makes: 8 servings

12 eggs

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

5 ounces Italian fontina cheese, cut into cubes

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 red onion, sliced

5 ounce ham steak, cut into cubes

12 ounces assorted heirloom tomatoes, cut into -inch-thick slices

1 1/2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

In a bowl, whisk together eggs and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and season with salt and pepper. Fold in fontina. Set aside.

In a deep frittata pan over medium heat warm 1 tablespoon oil. Add onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add ham, cook stirring occasionally, 1 minute.

Add egg mixture. Cook, using rubber spatula to lift edges and allow uncooked eggs to flow underneath until eggs are just beginning to set, 8-9 minutes.

In a shallow pan over medium-low heat, warm 1 teaspoon oil. Arrange tomato slices in single layer on top of egg mixture. Place shallow pan upside down on top of deep pan, and flip frittata into shallow pan.

Cook, covered, until eggs are set, 6-7 minutes. Uncover pan, and gently flop frittata onto platter. Let rest 5 minutes. Garnish with basil. Cut into slices and serve.

POTATOES DELUXE

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cooked

1 cup milk

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons finely chopped green onion tops

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Mash potatoes and set aside. Scald milk. Add 1 cup cheese, onions and salt, stirring until cheese is melted. Add milk mixture and bacon to potatoes; blend well.

Spoon mixture into a greased 1-quart casserole; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until cheese melts.

Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at features@beaufortgazette.com.

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