Kosher salt (Recipe: Moroccan eggplant salad)
Is kosher salt, the darling of chefs and cookbook authors, just another flaky food fashion?
Is it saltier than table salt, better for health or baking or taste?
Is all kosher salt the same?
Is it even kosher?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Kosher salt -- which really should be called koshering salt -- is a coarse-grained salt, named for its use in the production of kosher meats. (It helps to draw blood out of meat, much like drawing water out of eggplant or zucchini.) Unlike table salt, which since the 1920s has had iodine and starch added, kosher salt (specifically Diamond Crystal brand, which is the one I keep in my pantry) is additive-free.
It also differs from table salt in another important way. Table salt is granular, while kosher salt (again, I'm talking about Diamond Crystal brand) is shaped like a tiny, delicate, four-sided hollow pyramid; food scientist Shirley O. Corriher describes this in Cookwise as the difference between an ice cube and a snowflake. About 90 percent of granular salt dropped onto an inclined surface bounces off, she explains, while 95 percent of the "snowflake", or kosher salt, will stick to the surface. The kosher salt also dissolves in half the time that granular dissolves.
Morton's Kosher Salt, the other major brand available in supermarkets, is actually granular salt that has been pressed flat into snowflakes; in other words, it's a completely different type of salt than Diamond Crystal, though both are labeled "kosher salt." Please stick with Diamond Crystal; you can find it at your supermarket or online for approximately $2.00 for a three-pound box. Transfer the salt to a glass jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid; it will keep forever.
Kosher salt (which is kosher, as is nearly all salt) is a great all-purpose seasoning. I use it for all types of cooking and some baking, and I save my precious sea salts for finishing dishes. You'll need at least two tablespoons of kosher salt to yield the same amount of salt as one tablespoon of table (iodized) salt.
There's not a single dish in my repertoire that doesn't call for a tiny bit of salt, even those dishes that are fundamentally sweets. Whether in main dishes or dessert, breakfast or breads, salsa or salad, a pinch of salt brightens the natural flavors of food.
Here's a cooking tip that's taken me years to learn: Don't salt meat until just the second before you grill it. Salt draws moisture out, so if the salt gets a chance to get to work, the outside of your meat will get more brown, but the inside will be more dry as the salt draws the juices out. Best to grill first, and salt later.
Moroccan eggplant salad
This recipe uses kosher salt two ways, to draw moisture from the eggplant, and to season the dish at the end. It's a wonderful, easy recipe for summer entertaining. Serves 4.
2 eggplants (unpeeled), ends trimmed, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
Olive oil for frying
6 whole scallions, minced
1 tomato, minced
2 huge garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced fresh herbs -- a mix of parsley and cilantro
Juice of 1-1/2 lemons
1-2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Place eggplant slices in a colander, and toss with a generous amount of kosher salt. Set the colander over a bowl or plate, and let stand for 30 minutes, then rinse the eggplant and dry well.
In a frying pan filmed with olive oil, saute the eggplant until cooked through but not crispy brown. Drain on paper towels. Dice eggplant and place in a bowl with remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly (with your hands -- the eggplant should break down), and set aside to marinate for several hours at room temperature.