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Salt


chefgregory
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Greetings fellow gourmands, foodies & chefs!

I have been cooking for quite a few years, and have always thought I had a very good understanding of how and when to use salt. I know how salt extracts water from things. I've never used salt in marinades. I've never used it in stocks. My understanding is; salt corrects ph balance in the water which allows it to stops the transmission of flavour from the food into the liquid.

I always understood that you need to salt all meats before sauteeing and grilling (as it creates a layer of flavour) and stops the bleeding of juices into the pan and protects the meat from drying out.

Recently another cook challenged my constant salting of steaks, and had the position of it stops the "other" flavours from penetrating the meat, and makes the crust dryer than it should be. We did an experiment and I definitly found the salted meat did have a crustier exterior (which I like, and believe it should be like that) than the unsalted one, no change in the interior texture. we couldn't determine a taste difference as his position was a steak with a less tough exterior would be concidered more tender.

I don't mind rethinking and adapting my methods, but I would like to hear some other opinions.

After reading Thomas Kellers books, he clearly states blanching water should be as salty as the ocean; which is a much higher concentration than I use to use.

Please, respond - I want to hear what you have to say.

Cheers

GB

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A quick search of the eGullet site will indicate that this is one of the most controversial questions in cooking.

The work of Harold McGee and others has shown that virtually all of the conventional wisdom in the use of salt is incorrect.

Salt has been used historically as a preservative. While this is still the case, modern farming techniques, food importation, and freezing have decreased this traditional role.

It is probably safe to say that the key role for salt (apart from being a source of sodium) is in enhancing the taste of food. In Thai cooking, for example, it is one of the four key taste elements (sweet, sour, salty, hot), the balance of which is central to the flavor of the dish.

Salting of steak before cooking is recommended by most chefs not to "seal in the juices" but rather to enhance the flavor generated through the maillard reaction which leads to the development of a tasty crust.

Even staid old Cook's Illustrated has just produced an article on brining meat that says that conventional wisdom that salt should be avoided until just prior to cooking because it sucks out all the juices is manifestly wrong.

There are many topics on eGullet on brining and other uses of salt, which make for very interesting reading.

With regard to your steak, the best way to stop from losing juices during cooking is not by salting but by the use of a handy little gadget called a Jaccard ® tenderizer. My thanks for NathanM who contributes so often to eGullet forums for this bit of advice. Basically the tenderizer is a spring loaded device comprising many small knives. You place it on the piece of meat and push it down to penetrate the meat, working all the way across the surface. The theory (and practice) is that the "juices" from meat are forced out when the meat fibers contract as it is cooked. Resting the meat after cooking allows for these to relax and the juices to in essence be reabsorbed. By cutting the fibers with the Jaccard, you decrease the amount of tension with the result that less juice is forced out. Ironically, putting hundreds of little holes in the meat means that it will lose less fluid. It also improves the penetration of marinades.

As far as steak and many other meats go, by all means salt or brine your meat prior to cooking to improve the taste.

Don't hesitate in adding it to marinades for the same reason (after all a marinade in this case is a flavorsome brine).

And do try the Jaccard, the results will speak for themselves.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Like Keller, I salt all my discardable cooking liquids (except dried beans) to sea level saltiness whether it be for blanching vegetables or cooking pasta and potatoes. I find that the color sets better in the salted vegetables, the pasta is nearly flavorsome enough to eat plain and that potatoes blanched this way develop a better crust on pan roasting. The salt penetrates and the flavours of all of the above seem more rounded. I tradeoff by using less salt in the sauces that may go with the above.

Lobster and crabs are also cooked in sea-like salt water as well as being shocked in an ice bath of salted water. They maintain their juices better than those cooked/shocked in fresh water.

I also salt any meats I plan on grilling or searing at least an hour to a couple of days before cooking. More for crust development and flavor than juice retention.

Chickens, lean pork and turkeys I always brine before roasting. Brining does definitely aid in juice retention during cooking.

Stocks and sauces of course never get salted until just before service.

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The lore about salting is based on osmosis, and the idea that salt will draw moisture out of the food. This is all based on the idea that meat and vegetable cells are covered with semipermeable membranes.

In fact, very little osmosis goes on when you pre-salt food. The amount of moisture drawn out is insignificant. And when the food starts cooking, there is no osmosis at all; cell walls and cell membranes open up, and the food behaves like a sponge, not like a semipermeable membrane.

Brining depends largely on an osmotic process, which is why it takes a long time. It also has negative effects along with the benefits. Personally, after a year of messing with brines I've stopped doing it. The one advantage I found was that food was more resistant to overcooking. But I feel that a better solution is to not overcook it in the first place :)

Notes from the underbelly

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Like Keller, I salt all my discardable cooking liquids (except dried beans) to sea level saltiness whether it be for blanching vegetables or cooking pasta and potatoes. 

And what is meant by sea level saltiness? Is there a certain ratio of salt to water?

About 3% by weight.

Salt helps with green vegetables, because it speeds their softening, so in effect they'll cook faster.

It also speeds the softening of starchy root vegetables; in this case it's usually a bad thing, since the surface will naturally tend to soften too much before the center is cooked. Generally best to avoid salt if you're cooking whole ones or big chunks of them in water.

With all vegetables, alkalinity and water hardness are much more important than saltiness. If you live in a place with weird water, you may have issues.

With pasta, all salted water does is contribute seasoning.

Forget about what you might have heard about salt raising the boiling point. It does, but not enough to matter. That 3% solution ("salty as the sea") will boil 1 degree F higher than unsalted water. To try to compensate for the reduced boiling point at high altitude, you'd have to go nuts ... 2 pounds of salt per gallon to compensate for being at 5000 feet above sea level.

Notes from the underbelly

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Like Keller, I salt all my discardable cooking liquids (except dried beans) to sea level saltiness whether it be for blanching vegetables or cooking pasta and potatoes. 

And what is meant by sea level saltiness? Is there a certain ratio of salt to water?

For me it's when it tastes like sea water. But then having grown up on a coastal island that flavor is very familiar to me.

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Although I do not have the chemistry background to explain why I am doing it, I always lightly salt my stock. For some reason, I feel the final sauce always taste better this way, it feels more "meaty".

I think that's because salt/sodium is somewhat necessary to tasting glutamates/glutamic acid.

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

- Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry), Chef!

eG Ethics Signatory

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Although I do not have the chemistry background to explain why I am doing it, I always lightly salt my stock. For some reason, I feel the final sauce always taste better this way, it feels more "meaty".

I think that's because salt/sodium is somewhat necessary to tasting glutamates/glutamic acid.

That is true.

Also a salt solution outside of food will initiate osmotic movement of water to equalize the concentrations of sodium inside and outside of the cells of the food being cooked. This movement of water and ions takes flavor compounds with it. So a stock lightly salted at the outset could have a better flavor at the end than one not salted.

I, myself, never salt my stock since I never really know what their end use will be. Some will be used as is for soup. Others will be reduced until they have the consistency of syrup. Thus, I hold off of the salt as much as possible until the end use has been decided.

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Great responce, very interesting... a couple new salient points....

I've order the Jaccard device - I love new toys - but it was expensive up here in Canada. No one from the USA would ship here and only one place at the other end of the country sell them.

About the salt issue, I found an amazing resource that is actually designed for kids. It it compiled by Heston Blumenthal. "Kitchen Chemistry" published by "Royal Society of Chemisty" and it's fabulous. It comes with a DVD and really a work book designed for classroom work. I would HIGHLY recomend this for any students of the culinary arts.

I've gone back to a few reference books I have, but not being a great brain with chemistry, the RSC books lays down some fundamentals for me that really help me understand the more complex issues that are discussed in this thread.

Cheers

GB

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There's some interesting thoughts on salting steak here:

http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2007/08/28/h...i-prime-steaks/

I used this technique recently and although i started with a very good piece of beef to start with the result was the best steak i've ever eaten. It basically seems to work like a dry brine - but they do emphasise in the article that if you salt the meat for too short a time - which seems to be common practise for chefs - you just end up drying the outside of the meat. This method not only seems to season the steak very effectively, it also seems to tenderise it due to the interactions between the salt and the protein cells.

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  • 2 weeks later...

With regard to your steak, the best way to stop from losing juices during cooking is not by salting but by the use of a handy little gadget called a Jaccard ® tenderizer. My thanks for NathanM who contributes so often to eGullet forums for this bit of advice. Basically the tenderizer is a spring loaded device comprising many small knives. You place it on the piece of meat and push it down to penetrate the meat, working all the way across the surface. The theory (and practice) is that the "juices" from meat are forced out when the meat fibers contract as it is cooked. Resting the meat after cooking allows for these to relax and the juices to in essence be reabsorbed. By cutting the fibers with the Jaccard, you decrease the amount of tension with the result that less juice is forced out. Ironically, putting hundreds of little holes in the meat means that it will lose less fluid. It also improves the penetration of marinades.

Just to stay on topic, this is about SALTING and flavour penetration:-)

I would like to thank you a lot for the recommendation of the Jaccard device - it is now one of my most used toys. We recently did a test of 4 pieces of striploin and the salted, tenderized piece has the most amazing color and texture. I found a little extra resting time was needed (usually 1/2 of cooking time), but hands-down this gadget is a wonder.

I did find I had to hold the spring-loaded piece back on the thicker steaker (they are usually 2inches thick) to get better penetration.

It was expensive here in Canada, pretty much $100 by the time shipping and customs charges cleared, but the pork loin we did tonight with a crab-apple-pecan crust was to dye for! Same recipe as before, but the pork held it's juices so much better than before, we were all amazed :biggrin:

Cheers

GB

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With regard to your steak, the best way to stop from losing juices during cooking is not by salting but by the use of a handy little gadget called a Jaccard ® tenderizer. My thanks for NathanM who contributes so often to eGullet forums for this bit of advice. Basically the tenderizer is a spring loaded device comprising many small knives. You place it on the piece of meat and push it down to penetrate the meat, working all the way across the surface. The theory (and practice) is that the "juices" from meat are forced out when the meat fibers contract as it is cooked. Resting the meat after cooking allows for these to relax and the juices to in essence be reabsorbed. By cutting the fibers with the Jaccard, you decrease the amount of tension with the result that less juice is forced out. Ironically, putting hundreds of little holes in the meat means that it will lose less fluid. It also improves the penetration of marinades.

Just to stay on topic, this is about SALTING and flavour penetration:-)

I would like to thank you a lot for the recommendation of the Jaccard device - it is now one of my most used toys. We recently did a test of 4 pieces of striploin and the salted, tenderized piece has the most amazing color and texture. I found a little extra resting time was needed (usually 1/2 of cooking time), but hands-down this gadget is a wonder.

I did find I had to hold the spring-loaded piece back on the thicker steaker (they are usually 2inches thick) to get better penetration.

It was expensive here in Canada, pretty much $100 by the time shipping and customs charges cleared, but the pork loin we did tonight with a crab-apple-pecan crust was to dye for! Same recipe as before, but the pork held it's juices so much better than before, we were all amazed :biggrin:

Cheers

GB

You may find this site interesting. It is about 1/2 price. No recommendations from me as I haven't tryed it, but it looks the same as the Jaccard

Bill

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With regard to your steak, the best way to stop from losing juices during cooking is not by salting but by the use of a handy little gadget called a Jaccard ® tenderizer. My thanks for NathanM who contributes so often to eGullet forums for this bit of advice. Basically the tenderizer is a spring loaded device comprising many small knives. You place it on the piece of meat and push it down to penetrate the meat, working all the way across the surface. The theory (and practice) is that the "juices" from meat are forced out when the meat fibers contract as it is cooked. Resting the meat after cooking allows for these to relax and the juices to in essence be reabsorbed. By cutting the fibers with the Jaccard, you decrease the amount of tension with the result that less juice is forced out. Ironically, putting hundreds of little holes in the meat means that it will lose less fluid. It also improves the penetration of marinades.

Just to stay on topic, this is about SALTING and flavour penetration:-)

I would like to thank you a lot for the recommendation of the Jaccard device - it is now one of my most used toys. We recently did a test of 4 pieces of striploin and the salted, tenderized piece has the most amazing color and texture. I found a little extra resting time was needed (usually 1/2 of cooking time), but hands-down this gadget is a wonder.

I did find I had to hold the spring-loaded piece back on the thicker steaker (they are usually 2inches thick) to get better penetration.

It was expensive here in Canada, pretty much $100 by the time shipping and customs charges cleared, but the pork loin we did tonight with a crab-apple-pecan crust was to dye for! Same recipe as before, but the pork held it's juices so much better than before, we were all amazed :biggrin:

Cheers

GB

You may find this site interesting. It is about 1/2 price. No recommendations from me as I haven't tryed it, but it looks the same as the Jaccard

Bill

I am an idiot..forgot to give the site :rolleyes::rolleyes:

http://www.kitchenstuff-n-more.com/catalog...586/1279883.htm

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