When I first started cooking in my late twenties, I struggled to find a recipe with ingredients that I had in my pantry. At that point I wasn’t even keeping salt and pepper on hand. However, I did have quite the collection of sauce packets from my favorite take-out joints. I eventually conceded to the inevitable, took the plunge and purchased spices.
However, I had absolutely no idea where to start. Seriously, who knew how many types of salt existed on a grocery store shelf. Which salt was the right salt for me? Is there a salt that most cooks use? Isn’t the salt and pepper shaker that are sold together the best choice?
Well…I figured it out eventually through trial and error….
Salt is literally the most important spice, seriously just having the right amount of salt on food is game changing. There are also many varieties and variations of salt. From iodized table salt, kosher, sea, Himalayan, and black salt, there are different brands and coarseness of each. Each has it’s own purpose and use.
My basic everyday salt for cooking and baking is kosher salt. The two main brands that can be found in most national grocery stores are Morton and Diamond Krystal. For many years Morton was my go to salt. However, the pandemic hit and my local store didn’t have it in stock. I made the switch to Diamond Krystal out of necessity and will never go back. Diamond Krystal has a smaller and more variable texture, while Morton salt is larger and has a consistent granule size and shape. This matters. Diamond absorbs more evenly into my baking mixtures and covers more consistently when I’m salting a savory dish. It also has a really nice mouth feel and doesn’t have the same minerally finish as Morton. It is far superior.
I keep kosher salt in a small dish on my cutting board for quick and easy seasoning. I like a wide mouth dish so I can get my measuring spoons in to get accurate measures. Kosher salt is the salt of choice for seasoning your food throughout the cooking process. Every step of a savory dish should have a portion of the measure of salt provided in any recipe.
Table salt was what I grew up using. It was literally in the table at every meal. My dad was the first person to introduce me to the joys of well seasoned food. My mom a cardiac nurse was extremely health conscious and used very little to no salt when preparing meals for the family. My dad, to my mothers utter dismay, would then liberally dowse everything on his plate with salt and pepper. I clearly preferred his food and as a kid would only eat off of his plate. Eventually he showed me how to properly season my own food so that I would stop eating his.
I no longer keep table salt in my house. I find that iodized table salt gives my food a metallic after taste. I now prefer Himalayan or sea salt to add a little texture or addition salt at the the table.
These include sea and Himalayan salts. I really go either way with these salts depending on what texture I want. They are both mildly salty. Sea salt adds a nice flaky texture and crunch to finish say an avocado toast. Where as Himalayan salt need to be ground prior to use, it gives the same gentle salinity but without the crunch of sea salt. I would use Himalayan salt when the texture wouldn’t be noticeable or pleasant, to finish a creamy sauce or dressing. Finishing salts should be used sparingly to add that little extra zing to an already well seasoned dish.
This salt is entirely different from all the others. It has a sulfur like flavor. It is sour, smoky and kind of funky. Black salt lends a wonderful umami flavor to food. I use it primarily when cooking Asian or Indian cuisine. It is definitely not something I use every day or in every meal.
Seasoned salts can be anything from truffle salt to a homemade herbed salt (this is a link for an easy recipe). You can even buy seasoning salt at the grocery store. Mostly these salts lend different flavors or finishes to a dish. My grandmother used store bought seasoning salt in all of her ground meat recipes. The store bought kind has table salt, paprika, msg, garlic, onion, parsley, and pepper. This store bought seasoned salt is a great purchase if you’re just starting out stocking your spice cabinet, because it has so many other great seasoning already included. Or if you are a more seasoned cook, you can make your own seasoned salts. Truffle or herbed salt would really be used for finishing a dish, rather than for seasoning the dish throughout.
The most controversial salt of them all. I love MSG. MSG naturally occurs in foods like tomatoes and cheese. MSG that you purchase at the store is created using a fermentation process of starch and sugar similar to how yogurts are created. The fermentation process means that it tastes like a very mild salt and actually contains less salt than salt. In general MSG makes food not taste salty but taste more like the food itself. It makes a cucumber taste more cucumbery. I use MSG in lots of different cooking. Whenever I feel like a dish is just missing that something, I add a little MSG and voila!
Ground black pepper, whole pepper corns, black, red, multi color, or Szechuan peppercorns. All of these peppers lends a different flavor to the food you are preparing. I keep some of each of these peppers in their whole form in my pantry, so that they are fresh when I am ready to use them. I keep a coffee grinder specifically for spices and grind on demand depending on the amounts needed. I like to grind black pepper once a week to keep in a bowl on my cutting board for easy measuring and seasoning throughout the week. Another option would to use a pepper mill for fresh ground pepper whenever needed. I don’t love doing this for seasoning while cooking because I am not able to easily measure the amounts. I do like to use a pepper mill for grinding pepper to finish a dish.
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Crushed Red Pepper
Extras if you can:
- Chili Powder
- Garam Marsala
While you can always have more, these are the basics that will help you cook the majority of general recipes out there and add some spice while you are at it! Enjoy Dolls!