One of the most basic kitchen pantry staples is salt. Of course, I always use salt when I’m cooking. If I’m being honest though, it’s not an ingredient that I often pay attention to. I’ve got a glass bowl full of kosher salt at home, which I mindlessly pinch and throw into whatever I’m cooking. I’ve also got a small container of Fleur de Sel tucked away in a cupboard, which is reserved for sprinkling over the melted butter that I spread on my just-out-of-the-pan steaks. But beyond that, I haven’t really paid much attention to salt.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate what salt can do to other foods - it’s ability to balance and enhance flavours is difficult to replicate with anything else. It’s just that salt is such a routine part of my life, I don’t really think much about it.
I recently learned something new about salt though, and it’s going to change the way I look at that ingredient.
I’ve always known that salt can draw out the moisture from foods, but never really thought about how I could use that trait to my advantage. When the instructor of my Culinary Arts class at George Brown College explained the benefits of using salt to extract moisture, I was intrigued. It turns out that salting cucumbers for 15-30 minutes helps to improve their texture in salads. It is also great for removing bitterness from slices of eggplant.
The tip that really impressed me, though, was to add salt to onions when you’re sweating them. If you sweat onions without salting them, they will turn out just fine, but it takes a while because you have to cook them very gently to avoid browning them. Apparently, when you add the salt, the onions soften more easily and are less likely to turn brown.
Of course, I had to try this for myself, just to see if it would really make a difference. I set my pan over low heat, added a bit of oil and onions, and a sprinkle of salt. Within a few minutes, I could see more liquid in the pan than usual. After several minutes of cooking, my onions were soft and didn’t have a hint of brown on them. I didn’t find that it made the process any faster, but my onions softened without caramelizing (which is what you want when you’re sweating onions).
It just goes to show that even the simplest of ingredients can still surprise you from time to time.
About the author:
Shareba Abdul is digital media professional who specializes in food styling, writing and photography. She explores international cuisine on her blog InSearchOfYummyness.com.
by Shareba Abdul
As someone who has drawers stuffed with all kinds of herbs and spices, I can safely say that I’m ingredient obsessed. I love to play with different flavour combinations and discover new ways to elevate my favourite dishes. Yet, while I enjoy the romance of fancy ingredients, sometimes the best thing I can do for my cooking is to get back to basics.